It was quite simple. The event promoter called the cellphone of an acquaintance he has known for 20 years. The acquaintance happened to be an officer who works in the Special Operations Division, which handles such requests, according to testimony Thursday at a D.C. Council hearing called to investigate the escort issue.
The promoter had a good reputation for paying the bill to cover such off-duty escorts, Officer Stanley Radzilowski testified, so providing the service with a promise of a check was not a worry. Radzilowski, who took the promoter’s call, passed the request to his lieutenant, who testified that he then approved the run to Dulles International Airport to fetch Sheen.
Radzilowski said he knew which officers were done with their regular shifts and called them to make the trip.
Two days later, testimony showed, the department received a check for $445 to cover the tab.
That much about Sheen’s escort became clearer Thursday.
But after nearly four hours of testimony, much more remains unresolved, particularly about the policies surrounding who gets an escort and when.
In an unusual turn, the head of the special operations division or SOD — Cmdr. Hilton B. Burton — publicly disagreed with Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier at the hearing over the department’s practices for escorts. The hearing was called by council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), the head of the Judiciary Committee.
Burton, who has headed SOD for a year, said it had been common practice to escort celebrities for at least the past nine years. He provided a list of 47 trips, which included escorting sports teams and performers such as Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Paul McCartney and others. Some of the trips would have occurred while Lanier headed SOD, he said.
Burton said some aspects of the Sheen escort remain troubling to him — including whether lights and sirens were used during the drive. Sheen said on his Twitter account that the escorts were using the lights and sirens. and he showed a photo of a speedometer hovering at 80 mph.
But Burton, who said he was appearing as a private citizen not a police official, said he felt “compelled” to speak out about the June 5 transfer of SOD Lt. Stuart Emerman to patrol work. Emerman came under internal affairs investigation because of the Sheen incident.
Lanier said the transfer was not a disciplinary action and was done for the “efficiency of the department.” Burton said he had been directed in an e-mail from an assistant chief to say the transfer was not related to Sheen.
At the hearing, Burton said he did not think that explanation “was truthful” and told Mendelson that “I feel I cannot stand by and allow this continued distortion of the facts and the unmitigated attacks on the professional character of the members of SOD.”
Emerman said after the hearing that he remains under investigation and has not been told why he was transferred.
Lanier said the department policies on escorts are explicit and allow escorts for the president, vice president and heads of state, with some allowances “case by case” for other requests based on public safety concerns.
But those exceptions have to go to top supervisors, she said, and the breakdown in the Sheen event and testimony she heard at the hearing led her to believe that there are officers and supervisors who “apparently don’t understand general orders.”
The order “doesn’t say you don’t need to check if it’s somebody you know and like” who requested the escort, Lanier said. She offered examples of escort requests she had denied while overseeing SOD and cited similar refusals from other officials in previous years. “There are people who know the rules,” she said later.
Lanier said her greatest concern in the Sheen case was the use of sirens and emergency flashing lights. She also said some police escorts of celebrities or sports teams might involve a public safety issue that “is not self-evident to the casual observer.”
However, after the Sheen trip, the department identified 17 cases since 2002 of escorts to individual celebrities that now are under review by internal affairs, Lanier said.
After the hearing, she called Burton’s appearance as a private citizen “a familiar tactic” designed to let him try to invoke whistleblower protections if he is disciplined.
Burton said: “I had no agenda but to speak up and tell the truth. That probably won’t be the worst thing the chief may say about me in the next few days.”