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GIBSON CHARGED IN PCH STOP STAR FORMALLY ACCUSED OF DRUNK DRIVING.

Byline: TROY ANDERSON Staff Writer

Actor-director Mel Gibson was charged Wednesday with drunk driving following his controversial weekend arrest that has sparked an investigation into the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department treatment of Hollywood stars.

Prosecutor Ralph Shapiro, who oversees the District Attorney's Malibu office, charged the Oscar-winning director with misdemeanors of driving under the influence and driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent or higher.

Gibson, 50, was also charged with driving with an open container of alcohol, an infraction of the vehicle code.

If convicted, Gibson faces up to six months in jail.

``After reviewing all the evidence, we filed the charges we felt we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,'' district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said.

The charges drew immediate criticism from some who said they also appeared to show preferential treatment to the star.

Jody Armour, an expert on celebrity trials and professor at the University of Southern California Law School, said the fact that prosecutors also did not charge Gibson with resisting arrest ``smacks of favoritism.''

According to a widely publicized arrest report written by sheriff's Deputy James Mee, Gibson had alcohol on his breath and an open bottle of tequila in his Lexus when he was pulled over for speeding at 2:09 a.m. Friday on Pacific Coast Highway.

After failing a field sobriety test, the report said, Gibson tried to flee and went into an anti-Semitic rant, claiming, ``The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.''

``Certainly, there is a widespread public perception that money and celebrity status make a difference in how an alleged offender is treated by the courts and by the legal process,'' Armour said.

``There may be some substance to those perceptions as we do find, empirically, that poor people and minorities, for example, receive harsher treatment by the criminal justice system than the wealthier do.''

Robison said prosecutors decided not to charge Gibson with resisting arrest after reviewing Mee's written reports, an audiotape Mee recorded during the arrest and a videotape of Gibson after he was taken to the Malibu-Lost Hills Sheriff's Station in Agoura Hills.

``There were a couple of seconds where he allegedly ran back to his car, but we felt it didn't rise to the level of resisting arrest,'' Robison said. ``The officer told him to stop, and he did.''

Over the years, Armour said, the public perception is that numerous celebrities have received preferential treatment or received ``less sanctions for similar crimes.''

Just last month, ``The Sixth Sense'' actor Haley Joel Osment, 18, was hospitalized with a fractured rib after losing control of his car in a La Canada Flintridge neighborhood, sheriff's officials said.

La Crescenta Valley sheriff's officials said they suspected alcohol was a factor, took blood samples, but said they wouldn't be ready for three weeks. They did not interview the actor immediately, arguing their ``investigation takes a back seat to his need for medical attention.''

Office of Independent Review Chief Attorney Michael Gennaco is investigating the Gibson case and said he also plans to investigate the Osment incident as part of the larger investigation into whether the Sheriff's Department gives preferential treatment to celebrities.

Gennaco said celebrities in Los Angeles ``have had a history of receiving preferential treatment.''

``I don't know if it still exists to the degree it did in the past,'' Gennaco said. ``That's one of the reasons why we're doing this review.''

Gennaco said he met with Sheriff Lee Baca on Wednesday morning to discuss his investigation into why sheriff's officials appeared to be trying to suppress Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks from the public.

``There may have been some attempt to shield some of this information from the media,'' Gennaco said. ``We are still looking at whether there was a good reason to do that and whether it was consistent with policy.''

troy.anderson(at)dailynews.com

(213) 974-8985
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 3, 2006
Words:649
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