August 17, 2012 10:13am PT by Eriq Gardner
Charlie Sheen Police Escort Scandal Prompts Whistleblower Lawsuit
Leave it to Charlie Sheen to unintentionally create a mess that has led to a whistleblower lawsuit in the nation's capital.
On April 19, 2011, Sheen traveled by plane from Los Angeles to Dulles International Airport in Virginia. Because of a court date in L.A., he received a police escort so he could make an appearance at an event held at Constitutional Hall. The request for an escort came from Sheen's event promoter.
This might have slipped underneath the radar, but Sheen was so impressed by his escort that he tweeted a photograph of the police vehicle's speedometer registered at about 80 mph. He also tweeted, "In car with Police escort in front and rear! Driving like someone's about to deliver a baby! Cop car lights (hash)Spinning!"
The AP then ran a story that got extensive media coverage about the police commander Hilton Burton, who e-mailed subordinates, "This is why we should not do escorts for any and every body."
Last week, Burton sued the District of Columbia and its police chief for demoting him to captain after he gave testimony about the incident to the City Council.
After the details of the Sheen escort were revealed, the Metropolitan Police Department released a statement informing the public that the incident was under investigation and that it wasn't its practice to utilize emergency equipment for non-emergency situations. It also admitted that department reimbursement protocols weren't followed. (Sheen's promotional company reportedly repaid the city $445 for the escort.)
But in Burton's lawsuit, he says that the MPD didn't have a "clear policy in place to safeguard the health and safety of the public as it relates to non-dignitary escorts."
What the agency did have, according to Burton, was "obscure" general orders dating back nearly four decades saying that police vehicles would only be used to provide security for the President and Vice President and visiting heads of state requiring extraordinary protective measures. All other requests for escorts needed to be approved by certain officials. There allegedly also were some policies on reimbursable events, although Burton says the MPD was fairly inconsistent in application, resulting in a "defacto appropriation of significant resources and funds to the escorts of celebrities."
He says the MPD provided new policies on its escort procedure earlier this year, but at the time of the Sheen incident, Cathy Lanier, the chief of police, told the Washington Post that escorts weren't provided for people "because they're late or because they're celebrities."
But Burton says that statement wasn't true, informing his manager and later the D.C. City Council about the "gross mismanagement concerning the escort policy," and detailing the list of celebrities who got escorts including Hillary Duff, Billy Joel and Paul McCartney.
Thereafter, Burton alleges that Lanier retaliated against him by demoting him two full ranks from Commander to Captain and assigning him to the Medical Services Branch. He also says his yearly performance rating was then measured as an "inadequate performer" by his supervisor.
He's now suing for alleged violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act and seeking $1 million in compensatory damages, $1 million in punitive damages, lost wages, further attorney's fees and costs, plus reinstatement to his previous police rank. He also is looking to impose a civil fine against the officials responsible for the alleged retaliation in the amount of $10,000.
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