LOS ANGELES — Mel Gibson was charged with misdemeanor drunken driving Wednesday, five days after he was stopped on Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway for speeding and made anti-Semitic comments that have stained his public image.
Prosecutors made no mention of Gibson’s self-described “belligerent behavior” and “despicable” remarks in the complaint, which also charges him with having an elevated blood-alcohol level and an open container of liquor in his car.
If convicted, Gibson faces up to six months in jail, the district attorney’s office said.
“The ball is now in his court whether he is going to ask for a trial,” said district attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.
He does not have to appear for his Sept. 28 arraignment. A lawyer may appear in his place.
First-time misdemeanor drunken driving offenders usually face minimal, if any, time behind bars.
If convicted, it would be up to the judge to determine if Gibson would serve any time, Gibbons said. “They might count the time he spent in custody as time served,” she said.
A telephone message seeking comment was left for Gibson’s lawyers, Blair Berk and Barry Tarlow.
The Sheriff’s Department said Gibson was stopped at 2:36 a.m. Friday after being seen speeding at 87 mph in a 45-mph zone. Authorities said his blood-alcohol level tested at 0.12 percent. A California driver is legally intoxicated at 0.08 percent.
According to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the sheriff’s report says Gibson told the arresting deputy: “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” and asked him, “Are you a Jew?”
The deputy’s arrest notes reportedly also say Gibson at one point “bolted” away from him and tried to escape before being handcuffed.
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Loyola University Law School professor Laurie Levenson said it was noteworthy that Gibson was not charged with resisting arrest or making criminal threats.
“I think they wanted to treat him as normally as possible,” she said. “And we don’t know the facts. Did he walk away or run away? Were his statements to the deputy really threatening? That would make a difference.”
If convicted, Gibson will face a fine and a restriction on his license, Levenson said.
Two public apologies
“But the biggest costs are not those associated with the legal system,” she said. “It’s the business costs and reputation costs. In the end, this could be the most costly infraction of all time.”
Gibson, a top star of the 1980s for the “Lethal Weapon” series and winner of the best-director Oscar for 1995’s “Braveheart,” has issued two public apologies, and his publicist, Alan Nierob, has said the actor-director was in an ongoing program for alcohol abuse before the arrest and has entered another, on an outpatient basis.
The latest apology addressed the Jewish community directly.
“I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words,” Gibson said in a statement issued by his publicist. “Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.
Gibson, 50, has had a troubled relationship with Jewish organizations since his 2004 blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ,” which some criticized for portraying Jews as responsible for the death of Jesus. Supporters say the movie merely followed the Gospel story.
Gibson’s apologies weren’t accepted by former TV producer Merv Adelson, who took out an ad in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times blasting movie studio heads for not strongly and publicly condemning Gibson.
“Let’s make ourselves proud and NOT support this JERK in any way, just because he’s a so called ’star,”’ wrote Adelson, co-founder of Lorimar Productions, which produced such TV hits as “Eight is Enough” and “The Waltons.”
The Sheriff’s Department has denied allegations of a cover-up that stem from an initial account that described the arrest as occurring without incident and which made no mention of Gibson’s remarks to the deputy.
An independent county office that investigates allegations of wrongdoing by the department announced after a preliminary review that the arrest was handled within policy.
But the head of the agency, Michael Gennaco, said Tuesday he wouldn’t have described the arrest as being without incident, and he couldn’t say whether the department tried to shield Gibson’s remarks from the public when the original arrest report was ordered modified and the comments placed in a supplemental report.
In a related matter, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said it was not a violation of department policy when a sergeant drove Gibson to a tow yard to retrieve his car after being cited and released on his own recognizance.
“It’s within our policy to help people out and also to avoid a possible conflict,” Whitmore said, describing the brief trip in a patrol car. “We didn’t want Mr. Gibson to get into any kind of disturbance with the paparazzi.”
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