Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

Currently: 75° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Differing accounts

.

Perhaps it was the innocent encounter that Rep. Jim Gibbons has described. Nevertheless, the story the Gibbons campaign has been telling about what happened last Friday night at the Hughes Center differs from what Gibbons told police Saturday when they interviewed him about an alleged assault, according to the police reports released Wednesday.

Chrissy Mazzeo, 32, accused Gibbons, the Republican candidate for governor, of pushing her against the wall in a parking garage and making an unwanted sexual advance.

She said she cursed him and ran from the garage to a La Quinta Inn across Paradise Road before taking refuge in a Starbucks restroom.

There, she made the first of what police now say were three - not two as police had said - calls to 911 to report an assault. On a recording, she is heard gasping. Police have said that the gasps are laughter. In fact, she is heard telling the dispatcher that she is breathless from running.

The next day she told police she decided to drop the matter "mainly because of who he is ... I just don't want to go up against something like that." She did not recant her story, as the Gibbons campaign had claimed.

Gibbons told police that Mazzeo had slipped while walking in or near the parking garage and that he was merely helping her up. Gibbons and Mazzeo do agree that once Gibbons touched her, the hunt for her car ended and they went their separate ways.

Aside from the conflicting statements offered by Gibbons and Mazzeo, there is one clear difference between the campaign's version of the events and what Gibbons told police.

Gibbons told officers Saturday that after leaving a bar where he'd been with his campaign consultant Sig Rogich and four women, he made an odd choice for a man just weeks away from Election Day: He walked Mazzeo across the street to a parking garage to help her to her truck, according to some police records. Other police records said he went with her to the garage to get his own car and drive her to her truck to avoid the rain.

Until now, the campaign has said the incident happened outside the restaurant and never mentioned anything about a parking garage or escorting the woman beyond the McCormick & Schmick's property.

This discrepancy, as well as others in the police reports, can only deepen a growing political problem for the five-term congressman just days before early voting begins.

Mazzeo didn't return a phone call and didn't respond when a reporter knocked on her door Wednesday. She told police she is a cancer survivor and a single mother with a 3-year-old child.

Gibbons has yet to speak publicly about the incident. The campaign hasn't produced any of the other people at the restaurant who might talk about the incident or might have seen Gibbons help the woman.

The only response from the campaign Wednesday was the following statement: "Jim Gibbons is campaigning today as scheduled in Mesquite and Laughlin. Just as Metro and several eyewitnesses in and around the restaurant have concluded, Jim Gibbons did nothing wrong or inappropriate."

Sheriff Bill Young, who originally called the episode a misunderstanding and whose department took five days to identify the woman publicly and release records of the incident, called Mazzeo's story to police "a pretty damaging report. But once an alleged victim declines to prosecute, we're pretty much done with it."

Young, who has endorsed Gibbons, also defended the department: "We weren't on a witch hunt against the congressman, but we also weren't covering up anything.

"We're not going to be dragged into the middle of it," Young said. "He's a congressman and he's in a heated political race. It's up to the parties to defend their positions from here on out."

The Gibbons campaign has said the candidate had dinner with supporters at McCormick & Schmick's. Then, to avoid the rain, he and Rogich went into the bar, where they joined two women Rogich knew.

A short time later Rogich and Gibbons invited Mazzeo and Penny Puhek, wife of a Las Vegas dentist, to join the group. Puhek had recognized Gibbons and sent a round of drinks to his table.

Gibbons told police he had two glasses of wine at the bar. Julie Vick, their waitress, told police everyone at the table was drinking "heavily" and she described the scene as "flirty."

Mazzeo told police that Gibbons complained about his marriage, grasped her leg and made unwanted comments.

Gibbons denied that to police. They were sitting in close proximity, he said, so there might have been some unintentional contact, but asked if he put his hands on her, he said: "I do not recall doing anything like that."

Mazzeo told police that Gibbons told her his hotel was so close they could "crawl back to his hotel room." (The next day, when interviewed by police, Gibbons said he didn't have to worry about driving drunk because "I could have crawled back here.")

Mazzeo said the friend she was with noticed people in the bar using camera phones.

She told police Rogich must have noticed it, too, because he told Gibbons it was time to leave.

Mazzeo and the waitress said that after Gibbons left, 15 to 30 minutes elapsed before she went outside. There she found Gibbons, who she said asked, "Are you waiting for me?"

She said she told him no.

Gibbons told police that a much shorter time period elapsed before Mazzeo appeared, less than a minute, at which time he asked her, "Do you want me to help you find your car?"

They made their way to the parking garage. Gibbons told police that near the entrance to the garage, she tripped, "And I caught her and I stood her up and I said, 'Are you OK?' And she looked at me and walked away. And I went off into the hotel."

Mazzeo told police they walked down a small staircase into the parking garage, and then "he pushed me against a wall" near a stairway and an elevator. She said Gibbons then said, "You have two choices You can leave, or you can do the other choice," Mazzeo told police.

Mazzeo said she then ran to the Starbucks.

Next is a series of 911 calls, in which Mazzeo sounds at turns drunk, breathless and upset that police hadn't responded to her calls. In one, she says cameras can confirm the assault.

The cameras in the garage were not recording, however, according to the police reports. A police spokesman said that's not unusual. Deputy Chief Greg McCurdy said police often run into problems with video surveillance cameras at businesses during investigations.

Audiotapes of the three calls reveal a woman who sounds confused to the point she is confusing the dispatcher. She is breathless in the first and has trouble explaining what happened. The second call is much the same. But her third call is a lengthy one and she gives an account of what happened that closely matches the statement she made in a police interview two hours later.

Rogich dismissed the episode Tuesday because Mazzeo would not press charges. "She calls the next day and refutes the whole story," he said.

According to police reports, however, Mazzeo didn't repudiate her original statement. She chose not to press charges because she didn't want to undergo the pressures and media frenzy involved in pressing the case. At no point did she retract her statement and police did not ask her if she still stood by it.

Instead, once she said she was not interested in pursuing charges and assured police she had not been pressured to drop the case, the interview ended.

McCurdy also said police had no record of any 911 calls coming directly from the La Quinta last Friday between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. A clerk at La Quinta told the Sun this week that about 10:20 p.m., a woman used a house phone in the lobby following an altercation just outside La Quinta's door.

archive