WASHINGTON (AP, ABC7) District of Columbia police records released Wednesday show Bill Gates, Jay-Z and other celebrities have received escorts similar to the one officers gave actor Charlie Sheen, conflicting with initial police statements that escorts are reserved for the president, vice president and visiting heads of state.
"This is a common process, we've been doing it for years," said Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police. "Yes, we do this." He said the extensive criticism of the Sheen escort unfairly put those officers in the spotlight.
Records obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request show police have provided escorts in the last year to college and professional sports teams sometimes to team owners as well as to a handful of celebrities. The department has generally been reimbursed for the escorts, in amounts ranging from several hundred dollars to nearly $30,000, the invoices show.
Officers with the special operations division on April 19 provided Sheen an escort, with sirens and lights flashing, from Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia to a performance at Washington's DAR Constitution Hall. The escort attracted attention after Sheen wrote about it excitedly on Twitter, even posting a photograph of a speedometer registering about 80 mph: "In car with Police escort in front and rear! Driving like someone's about to deliver a baby! Cop car lights #Spinning!"
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier on Wednesday reiterated her statement that the escort for Sheen appeared to violate department protocol. At the time, she said city police escorts weren't supposed to travel in other jurisdictions without the help of law enforcement agencies in those localities.
"They are not approved to go outside of the District," Lanier said Wednesday.
The police chief immediately opened an internal investigation last month, saying police escorts are exclusive to the President, Vice President, the Mayor and visiting heads of state. On Wednesday, she said there are exceptions to that statement.
"We've never said no celebrities," Lanier said. "You can't have a policy that says there is never a time."
There is a provision allowing for requests for escorts to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but they must be approved by an assistant chief. Records show a special operations commander signed off on the escorts but it's unclear what other approvals they got.
"That's a waste of taxpayers money," said D.C. resident Chris Atchinson. To Lanier, he added, "She should stop it." Tai Long countered that without the escorts, there might be other safety issues for stars traveling through D.C.
The escort of Gates, the wealthy businessman and philanthropist, was provided on Nov. 8, 2010 from the city Convention Center to Dulles at a total cost of $445.68, according to an invoice provided to the AP. A Gates spokeswoman said she had no immediate information on the escort.
The escort of rapper Jay-Z began on March 3, 2010, originating at Dulles and lasting from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. the next day at a cost of $1,114.20. It's not clear from the invoice where Jay-Z went in D.C, and a publicist for him had no immediate information on it.
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, whose committee has oversight of the police department, said he was considering asking for a hearing to hash out the conflicting reports from the agency.
"Most troubling is (the) lack of a consistent story," Mendelson said. "How many conflicting explanations have we gotten from officials regarding what is the truth?"