Mel Gibson’s booze-fueled, anti-Semitic outburst during his DUI arrest last August is old news, to be sure. But the Associated Press reported today that an internal investigation of the incident showed that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials did their best to cover up some of the Academy Award winner’s more bizarre and offensive comments during the arrest.
The investigation showed that, in filing the initial report on the arrest, sheriff’s employees first tried to delete Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks, but, upon being overruled by a superior, then decided to write them up in a "supplemental report."
This cover-up technique is familiar to us here at the Reporters Committee, as journalists have frequently called us up inquiring about similar ploys perpetrated by their own hometown police departments. Public records laws in most states, California included, exempt "investigatory records" from disclosure, and so police will often remove any details from initial incident reports, which are not exempt, that they don’t want revealed, and slip them into a so-called "supplemental report," which are then treated as part of the investigation.
In reality, of course, this is a semantics game, but it’s often enough to put a wall up in front of police reporters trying to learn the details of a crime or car accident.
Keeping a police department honest and deterring future cover-ups like this often means following up with records requests after an investigation has been completed and unveiling improper report filing techniques so that the practice is halted. One can only hope that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department got the message here.