Charlie Sheen and Pardoned Turkeys: Birds of a Feather?
Besides providing guarded companionship for the fowl that gets a presidential pardon for Thanksgiving, MPD has escorted "Santa Claus," and sports teams like the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2003, Justin Timberlake got his own D.C. police ride for an hour in order to get back and forth to the Verizon Center. That same year, Miss America had two officers escort her to the Marriott Wardman Park hotel. (The turkey's ride, by the way, unlike Sheen's, was officially sanctioned.)
At a D.C. Council hearing Thursday, Commander Hilton Burton said it was "standard operating procedure" for celebrities like Sheen to get what one lawyer at the hearing referred to as a "limousine service" provided by MPD.
Speaking to Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who held the hearing in order to investigate Sheen's controversial April transport, a shaved-headed Burton pointed out that his boss, Chief Cathy Lanier, was commander of the police division that handles police escorts for celebrities from 2002-2006.
"She knew or should have known about these escorts," said Burton, who was testifying at the hearing as a private citizen, not a cop. Records show that during that time, stars like Christina Aguilera and Hilary Duff hired patrol cars to chaperone them through the city. In a town attuned to power and status, cops schlepping the rich and famous to their appointments isn't all that surprising, but by the way Burton's accusations dialed up the tension in the room full of reporters, cops, and policy wonks, it was apparent that it still manages to be scandalous.
Burton is the current commander of the escort supplying wing of the department, which is called Special Operations Division, and says that despite Lanier's knowing about the escorts, which got national media attention when Sheen tweeted about his, she blamed two officers who could be considered middle managers for the motorcade, and had them transferred.
Built like a linebacker and dressed in formal blue uniform, Burton said that although the men had been the subject of an internal investigation, he was told by a superior to mislead the press by telling them the transfers weren't related to the scandal. Burton said he didn't "feel comfortable" with that.
Police union chief Kris Baumann testified that the men were patsies, and that "the effect of that is just poisoning the police department. If you do your job, if you follow the department's policies and procedures and those policies and procedures are wrong and embarrassing, the idea that you're going to be the one suffering the consequences, you can't work that way."
Lanier and Baumann are long time foes, and Lanier and Burton have been at odds of late. Burton has filed two discrimination complaints against the chief: He claims Lanier discriminates against officers for being black or male or both.
Lt. Stuart Emerman, one of the transferred officers, testified that he was responsible for Sheen's escort. "Yes, I was the approving authority on it," he said of the Sheen escapade. But he also argued that such escorts were "common practice."
Through the hearing, Lanier listened with a cocked head, sometimes jotting down notes, as if she were at a college lecture. Testifying last, she said Sheen's escort needed to be approved by her or an assistant chief, and said others in the department knew that was the case. Lanier produced MPD emails as evidence. One email showed that, as an SOD commander, she'd denied an escort to icon Dorothy Height, because the chief of police hadn't signed off on it. Lanier also presented an email in which she, as chief, refused a police escort to Fran Drescher. "Clearly there were people in that planning unit and SOD who knew what the policy was," she said.
Lanier said that Internal Affairs investigators recently discovered documentation for at least 17 celebrity escorts since 2002. Some of them weren't officially sanctioned, she said. After the hearing, she noted that Burton was being investigated in connection to some of the convoys, and that she hadn't been responsible for any similar violations when she held his position."You'll find nothing from me approving Hillary Duff," she said.
Mendelson says most of his questions about the escorts were answered at the hearing, but he's still wondering how it is that MPD conducted such "loosey goosey" operations. It's a valid point. Though most scrutiny has focused on whether higher-ups like Lanier knew anything about the escorts, not knowing about them would seem to be just as bad. The escorts provided income for MPD and according to Emerman, daily and monthly reports went out as he did his job.
Screengrab via YouTube