WASHINGTON (AP) — District of Columbia police records released Wednesday show Bill Gates and rapper Jay-Z are among the celebrities who have received police escorts similar to the one officers provided last month to actor Charlie Sheen, revealing more widespread use of a practice mostly intended for top government officials and foreign dignitaries.
Records obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request show that dozens of escorts have been provided in the last year or so alone, including to entertainers, celebrities and college and professional sports teams and sometimes their owners. The department is typically reimbursed for the escorts, in amounts ranging from several hundred dollars to, in one case, nearly $80,000, the invoices show.
Police officials said last month that escorts were generally reserved for the president, vice president and visiting heads of state and the mayor, with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Wednesday that police protocol also allows escorts when there are concerns about public safety or crowd control. She said the celebrity escorts were “all being looked at based on what happened in the Charlie Sheen case,” but wouldn’t categorically say they were improper.
Officers with the special operations division on April 19 provided Sheen an escort, with sirens and lights flashing, from Dulles International Airport — approximately 30 miles from downtown Washington — to a performance at DAR Constitution Hall in the city. 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 (hash)Spinning!” His concert promoter reimbursed the district $445.68, records show.
Lanier said last month that the Sheen escort appeared to violate department protocol and that such escorts weren’t intended for celebrities.
She said city police escorts weren’t supposed to turn on flashing lights and sirens in non-emergency situations and were not permitted to travel in other jurisdictions without the help of law enforcement agencies in those localities. Yet the records show that several of the escorts either originated or ended at Dulles, in northern Virginia.
Lanier said she stood by her statements from last month, but stressed Wednesday that there are any number of situations in which an entertainer might necessitate an escort. She added: “If there isn’t a legitimate reason for it, then who made the decision to authorize it and did they follow the proper protocol for authorizing 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.
“How many conflicting explanations have we gotten from officials regarding what is the truth?” Mendelson asked. “The most damning thing is the stories have been inconsistent.”
The escorts are provided at a rate of $55.71 per hour. Many of the escorts cost under $500, but some are substantially more expensive: Escorts provided for a March 2010 meeting of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee totaled more than $79,800. That money has been repaid.
The escort of Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, billionaire businessman and philanthropist, was provided on Nov. 8, 2010 from the city Convention Center to Dulles, according to an invoice provided to the AP. He was in Washington that day as keynote speaker for a health conference. The invoice, approved Nov. 17, reflects an outstanding balance of $445.68, or the total cost of the escort.
A Gates spokeswoman said she had no immediate information on the escort, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether that sum had since been paid.
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 his visit.
Singer Taylor Swift’s name also appears on a list of people who have received escorts — on June 1, 2010, the night she performed at Verizon Center — though no invoice for her escort was supplied.
College and professional sports teams as well as owners have also gotten escorts, including to the White House and to stadiums on game day. Owners have also benefited — the Indianapolis Colts owner was escorted from the Four Seasons Hotel to FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
The documents show John Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, was escorted from Dulles on June 25, the day after he was drafted by the Wizards. He arrived at the Verizon Center in a SUV-limo, where he stepped onto a red carpet and faced cheering fans.
Kris Baumann, chairman of the police union, said it’s widely known within the department that such escorts are provided.
“As officers, we know this goes on a routine basis,” Baumann said. “Just acknowledge it.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.