WASHINGTON — A D.C. police captain who was demoted after actor Charlie Sheen received a police escort to his comedy show last year has filed a multi-million dollar whistleblower lawsuit against the department.
Hilton Burton claims he was punished for telling the D.C. Council that police escorts for celebrities were a common practice in the city, putting him at odds with Police Chief Cathy Lanier. The chief said Sheen's escort broke police protocol and that such escorts were generally reserved for government officials and dignitaries, but could be approved for others on a case-by-case basis.
"To me, it's all retaliatory because the chief did not like what I said before the city council," Burton said Wednesday.
Lanier has said the demotion was not connected to the escort or to Burton's remarks and was instead a reflection of his performance. Her spokeswoman, Gwendolyn Crump, said the department's lawyers had not yet reviewed the lawsuit and weren't available to comment.
Sheen's April 19, 2011 escort from Dulles International Airport to a concert hall attracted attention when the actor posted about it on Twitter with a photo of flashing emergency lights and a speedometer that appeared to be registering about 80 mph. Lanier at the time said the escort ran afoul of department policies, in part because emergency lights were used in a non-emergency situation and because the escort originated outside city lines. She also said the escort wasn't given the proper approval within the department.
The escort was provided after one of Sheen's representatives, concerned the actor would be running late from Los Angeles for his performance, contacted police and requested a ride to the concert hall. Two off-duty officers met Sheen at the airport and drove him to the venue. The promoter reimbursed the city for eight hours of overtime, at a cost of $445, police said.
Burton testified before the council two months later that escorts for celebrities were routinely provided and that there was no written rule against them. Other celebrities who have received police escorts in the last few years include Bill Gates, Jay-Z and Washington Wizards star John Wall, according to police records obtained by The Associated Press.
An inspector general's report concluded that the officers who provided the escort didn't break department rules and said that escorts for non-dignitaries were routinely provided. The report faulted the department for failing to establish and follow clear guidelines about the rides and said the casual manner in which they were handled opened the police force to liability if something went wrong.
Burton was later transferred out of the special operations division, which he led, and demoted two ranks from commander to captain. He was first transferred to the department's medical services branch, where according to the lawsuit he had "no real duties," and is now involved in internal affairs investigations for the fire department.
The police department, the suit alleges, "has demonstrated extreme, outrageous, and intolerable conduct that is beyond all bounds of decency."
Besides seeking at least $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages, the suit also seeks for Burton to be reinstated to commander and to his prior position with the special operations division.
Burton has previously filed discrimination complaints against the department and even before the Sheen escort, had sued Lanier, accusing her of wrongfully demoting him.
He has said his superiors told him he was being demoted from special operations commander because of his performance, but his lawyer said Wednesday it won't be easy for the department to prove that in court because his superiors didn't raise problems about his performance until after he had appeared before the D.C. Council.