October 21, 2009 11:25 AM
TMZ Founder Outraged Over Leak-Seeking Cops in Mel Gibson Jew-Hate Flap
Photo: Mel Gibson appears in public service announcement for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Star Organization.
LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) Who leaked the 2006 Mel Gibson drunk-driving arrest report that included the actor's anti-Semitic tirade? The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department wants to know -- and Harvey Levin, the founder of celebrity site TMZ.com, is promising he'll fight them, saying the sheriff's office illegally obtained his phone records to try to answer the question.
He said he considers the department's actions an assault on the First Amendment.
Photo: Mel Gibson's 2006 DUI mug shot.
(Los Angeles County Sheriffs Dept.)
"It breaks federal law. It breaks state law," Levin said. "It's outrageous. We've met with lawyers and are charting our course of action. This is not going to go away."
Levin's comments came during a speech Monday night at UCLA at an event hosted by the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California.
Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said the phone records were obtained legally.
"This was signed by a judge, it was consulted with the district attorney's office before any of this was done," Whitmore said. "It was absolutely legal.
"The First Amendment is paramount for the Sheriff's Department," he said. "This was not about him (Levin). This was about looking at the unauthorized release of documents."
Gibson was arrested for misdemeanor drunken driving on July 28, 2006, on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. His anti-Semitic slurs, detailed in a report leaked to the celebrity Web site, provoked outrage, and the "Braveheart" actor and director later apologized.
The officer who arrested Gibson, Deputy James Mee, became the target of a criminal investigation into whether he leaked the arrest report. Records obtained during that investigation showed several calls between Levin and Mee's home. But authorities determined it was impossible to say who made the calls on Mee's end of the line.
Prosecutors eventually declined to charge Mee, citing a lack of proof that he leaked details about the case.
Gibson pleaded no contest in August, 2006 and was given three years probation, fined $1,400 and ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Earlier this month, a judge agreed to expunge his drunk-driving conviction after he successfully completed the terms of his probation.