- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The red and cuddly “Sesame Street” Muppet Elmo has learned a new lesson: ‘H’ is for handcuffs.

A man dressed as the character was one of three impersonators arrested last week on charges of harassing tourists for tips after posing for photos on Hollywood Boulevard. The others booked were impersonators of superhero Mr. Incredible and the dark-hooded character from the horror movie “Scream.”

The impersonators said they were taken into custody at gunpoint, handcuffed and paraded on the Hollywood Walk of Fame before stunned tourists and other impersonators. They were charged with misdemeanor “aggressive begging,” police said.

“With all of the crime in Los Angeles, they pick on us?” said Elmo impersonator Donn Harper, 45, who makes up to $400 per day in tips.

Tourists have complained that the costumed characters harass them for not tipping after posing for photos in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Kodak Theatre. Merchants say some of the costumed characters are scaring tourists.

Los Angeles Police Officer Michael Shea said police warned impersonators at a meeting last month that the department would start enforcing solicitation and harassment laws. Officers conducted a sting by posing as French tourists who did not understand English or the American tipping culture.

“Make no mistake about it — I wanted the characters to know what we’re doing,” Officer Shea said.

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