The Circus Comes to Malibu
First the humiliation, then the redemption.


Things have reached a pretty pass when reports of a celebrity’s drunken misbehavior and anti-Semitic rants are treated as bigger news than an actual war in Israel. But there you have it, life in America in 2006, and for the moment Mel Gibson’s encounter with a deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is The Story. Tel Aviv could be in flames and I’m not sure it would push Gibson’s sordid little tale off the front pages.

We don’t see many celebrities in the part of town where I work, and as I’m employed by the Los Angeles Police Department, not the sheriff’s department, I don’t have any inside information on what went on out there on Pacific Coast Highway and later at the Lost Hills sheriff’s station that night. But you don’t need any inside information to figure out how things went down: Gibson got drunk, got stopped, and got arrested. And along the way he decided to make an even bigger fool of himself than all but the most cantankerous of drunk drivers.

The criminal case against Gibson after all is the least of his problems. First-time offenders (and there haven’t been any reports of prior arrests) don’t do jail time for drunk driving in California unless they hurt someone in an accident, and Gibson can surely afford whatever fine he may be ordered to pay. He will of course plead guilty; for the sake of his film career he needs to get the criminal case over with as quickly as possible. But there is a more important reason for him to plead guilty: The deputy who arrested Gibson has an audio tape of his alleged orations on the role of Jews in world affairs, and a sergeant videotaped his antics after he was brought to the sheriff’s station. As of today, neither tape has been made public. As repugnant as the news accounts of Gibson’s behavior are, imagine how much worse he will appear if those tapes are brought to light. If he takes the case to trial, the tapes will be introduced as evidence and brought into the public domain. Unless the tapes are leaked to the press (a good possibility), Gibson can only lose in a trial, even if he’s found not guilty.

And what about the drama in the L.A. sheriff’s department over Gibson’s arrest? Except for Deputy James Mee, who stopped Gibson for speeding and made the arrest, the cops don’t come off too well in this case. Word of the arrest surely went to the highest levels of the sheriff’s department, but so far no one has come out and said who gave the order to alter the arrest report by deleting its more scandalous details. The cover was blown when some yet-to-be-revealed insider leaked the expurgated pages to a reporter. Whoever gave that order was essentially putting Deputy Mee on the hot seat, for if he had testified to some watered-down version of the facts only to be contradicted by his own tape, he would have looked like a liar at worst and a fool at best.

There may be surprises in the subplots, but from here the story will follow an utterly predictable arc. When the curtain fell to conclude Act I, the audience had been transfixed by Gibson’s sudden freefall into anguished madness. Oh, how they love to see the high and mighty brought low and desperate. This was immediately followed by the de rigueur apology, punctiliously crafted by platoons of agents, attorneys, and P.R. flacks so as to convey the utmost sincerity.

Act II, now in progress, has our protagonist ensconced in a “recovery program” safely removed from the voyeuristic vultures of the press. We are of course asked to “respect his privacy” as he “copes with his illness.” The final scene of Act II will be set in the Malibu courthouse, outside of which will be gathered the cast of thousands: the assemblage of reporters, photographers, and other media types unequaled since O. J. Simpson beat the rap. The Kobe Bryant case? Sure, that was a sideshow, but it was set way out there in the hinterland. What was there for Geraldo to do on a Saturday night in Eagle, Colorado? The Michael Jackson trial? Another circus, but again, Santa Maria is on no one’s map of glamorous destinations. But this time, Malibu! Oh, the sublime possibilities! Book your rooms now, ladies and gentlemen of the press. You don’t want to get stuck in some dump down by the airport.

Act III will of course be the redemption. Gibson will walk out of the courthouse and face the cameras with his wife at his side, and he will apologize once again for his behavior, which he will blame on his “disease” or “syndrome” or “condition” or whichever euphemism he and his handlers eventually agree upon. Finally, after some weeks or months, he will appear on a television network special, on which he will sit in a softly lit room to be questioned by Barbara Walters, who, along with millions and millions of viewers, will be moved to tears by Gibson’s sincerity as he recounts his hellish existence in the grips of alcoholism and his public humiliation at the hands of the sheriff’s department and the long, hard, road back to sobriety and respectability. And neither Barbara Walters nor those millions and millions of viewers will stop to wonder if this man who has spent his life as an actor just might be acting now.

And if he is, so what? This is America, where all sins are forgiven, especially if you can bring in $100 million on opening weekend.

 Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.