- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

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 dozens of escorts have been provided in the last year and a half, including to entertainers, celebrities, college and pro athletes, and sometimes to the teams’ owners. The department is routinely reimbursed for the escorts, in amounts ranging from several hundred dollars to, in one case, nearly $80,000, the invoices show.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier 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.

Lanier told The Associated Press on 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 and said there’s any number of reasons why celebrities or non-dignitaries might be entitled to an escort.

“There are legitimate reasons for many of these escorts,” Lanier told the AP, adding, “There may be. I just don’t know.”

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!”

Sheen’s concert promoter reimbursed the district $445.68, records show.

Lanier said in an April 22 statement that the Sheen escort appeared to violate department protocol. She also said 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 generally not permitted to travel in other jurisdictions without the assistance of law enforcement agencies in those localities.

Yet records show that several of the celebrity escorts either originated or ended at Dulles or Ronald Reagan National Airport, both in northern Virginia.

An investigation is continuing into whether any of the escorts were inappropriate and how they came to be approved.

“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?” she said.

The escort of Gates _ the Microsoft co-founder, billionaire businessman and philanthropist _ was provided on Nov. 8, 2010 from the city’s convention center to Dulles, according to an invoice for $445.68. He was in Washington that day speaking at a health forum. Gates fully reimbursed the district, said Steve Krystek, director of PFC Safeguards, which coordinates logistics for Gates’ travel. He declined to comment on any other aspect of the escort.

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.

“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 were provided at a rate of $55.71 per hour. Many of the escorts cost less than $500, but some were substantially more expensive: Escorts provided for a 2010 meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, totaled more than $79,800. That money has been repaid. Escorts protecting the ballot boxes used in last September’s primary election cost more than $23,000.

Dignitaries including the UN Secretary-General and the World Bank president have received escorts, as has a former first lady. Police escorts for military funerals are also common, documents show.

The escort of rapper Jay-Z on March 3, 2010 originated at Dulles and spanned from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. It cost $1,114.20, which has been reimbursed. The invoice doesn’t specify where Jay-Z went. A publicist for him had no immediate information on his visit.

Singer Taylor Swift’s name also appears on a log of people who have received escorts _ on June 1, 2010, the night she performed at Verizon Center in downtown D.C. _ though no invoice for her escort was immediately available.

College and professional sports teams as well as owners have also gotten escorts, including to the White House, foreign embassies and to and from stadiums on game day. Owners have also benefited _ the Indianapolis Colts owner was escorted Oct. 16 from the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington to FedEx Field in Landover, Md, an invoice says.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello says it’s up to teams to decide whether to travel with police escorts in cities they visit.

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 Washington Wizards. He arrived at the Verizon Center in a SUV-style limo, where he stepped onto a red carpet.

Police union chairman Kris Baumann 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.”


Associated Press writers Joseph White and Barry Wilner in New York contributed to this report.

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