- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A police commander who publicly clashed with Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier in June over the department’s practice of providing police escorts for celebrities has been relieved of his command duties.

Former commander Hilton Burton, a 20-year veteran who oversaw the department’s Special Operations Division (SOD), said he returned to work Monday from a two-week vacation to be demoted to the rank of captain and assigned to the department’s medical services branch.

The chief and Capt. Burton openly clashed during a June 23 D.C. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary hearing on the escort policy, during which Capt. Burton said SOD regularly provided police escorts to celebrities, despite the chief’s assertion they were reserved for presidents, vice presidents and visiting heads of state.

“It’s definitely direct retaliation for the hearing,” Capt. Burton said Tuesday in an interview.

However, while speaking to reporters separately on Tuesday, Chief Lanier indicated the demotion was the result of a review of several command decisions made by Capt. Burton prior to the June hearing. She declined to discuss the issues further, saying they were a personnel matter but added that she thought Capt. Burton used the hearing as a way to lay groundwork to later make a claim of retribution.

“He wanted to have something to fall back on and say was retaliation,” she said.

Capt. Burton says the matters referenced by the chief are related to the SOD’s handling of several barricades in April and May and his notification of a change in an overtime policy. He said that, to his knowledge, the issues now being cited were resolved and there was no outstanding investigation.

“It hadn’t been spoken of until yesterday,” he said.

If his leadership capabilities were in such question by the department, Capt. Burton said he was curious why he was allowed to oversee the police department’s operations on July 4, when hundreds of thousands of people ventured to the Mall to watch the District’s fireworks display.

The debate over the department’s celebrity escort policy began in April when actor Charlie Sheen received an MPD escort from Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia to DAR Constitution Hall in the District, where he was performing that night. He tweeted a picture of the escort, stating the police car accompanying him was using emergency lights and speeding.

Capt. Burton, who insisted he was testifying on behalf of himself and not the department, said police escorts had accompanied other celebrities, including Billy Joel and Paul McCartney. Chief Lanier said shortly afterward that the department did not provide escorts to celebrities on a regular basis.

“I advised my chain of command that this was not the case, and that SOD had regularly done escorts of sports teams and some celebrities since I became commander of SOD and that this practice had been standard operating procedure for a number of years,” he said during the hearing.

Chief Lanier, who headed special operations before she became police chief, countered that policy dictates a high-ranking officer must approve escorts for celebrities or other special cases, which are reimbursed by the requesting party and use off-duty officers.

The demotion sends a strong message that dissension within the force is a punishable offense, said police union chairman Kristopher Baumann.

This is the second time Capt. Burton has been demoted. In 2008, he was demoted from commander of MPD’s Fourth District to the rank of inspector. He is currently in the process of appealing that decision and has a court date scheduled in September in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The Washington Times reported in May that Cmdr. Burton was among four veteran MPD officials who filed a complaint before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing Chief Lanier of “a disturbing pattern of discriminatory conduct” in handing down harsher discipline for male officers than female officers.

Chief Lanier has strongly denied the charges.

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