Paris is freed; now it’s Baca’s turn
Hours after heiress Paris Hilton left jail Tuesday, having served 23 days, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca appeared before county supervisors to defend his widely criticized attempt to release her earlier.
Hilton left the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood shortly after midnight on a catwalk of paparazzi. Baca sent her home June 7, after five days of her 45-day sentence, with orders to wear an electronic monitor. But Judge Michael T. Sauer returned her to jail the next day to serve out her term for violating probation on alcohol-related reckless driving charges.
“There was no preferential treatment.... She served more time than anyone else” for a similar crime, Baca told supervisors. He said he feared her medical condition was life-threatening.
Baca said the decision to release Hilton early was not favoritism but was based on her undisclosed medical condition, which he said could not be treated in jail.
The sheriff said two doctors who did not communicate with each other had prescribed medications for Hilton, who was confused and did not know the name or dosage of the drugs. Her doctors could not provide the information, Baca said.
“Our doctors said we had no solution for her medical problem -- none. I’ll say we all in this room know something about suicide; I think we all know something about inmates killing inmates. I think we all know something about inmates dying in our jails.
“As the sheriff of this county, I’m not going to let any inmate die in our jails. If I know something that can be done that solves the medical problem.... What’s worth more? Serving time in the County Jail for driving on a suspended driver’s license or a person losing their life?”
The Hilton saga has focused attention on whether the judge, who hands down a sentence, or the sheriff, who runs the jails, decides how much time should be served. It also has drawn attention to Baca’s early release program, which eases jail crowding by freeing inmates before their sentences are completed.
Baca said the decision to release Hilton was medical, not related to overcrowding. “Ultimately, she was at a place where we couldn’t fix whatever that medical problem was with the resources we had,” he said.
County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said other inmates would want early release. “We’ve had judges getting that question,” Antonovich said.
The supervisor also challenged Baca’s failure to follow the judge’s direction that Hilton should not be placed on electronic monitoring.
Baca said Hilton is not the first inmate he has removed from jail and assigned elsewhere because of a medical condition.
Undersheriff Larry Waldie told supervisors that Sauer, who had sentenced Hilton to jail and returned her there after Baca released her, told him that Hilton had conned her doctors and the sheriff’s medical staff.
During a more than 25-minute discussion, during which Baca sometimes grew testy, Supervisor Don Knabe questioned how Hilton could be in such a state, given that hours before being jailed she had appeared at the MTV Movie Awards. Supervisors also noted that she appeared to be in good health upon her release Tuesday.
An examination by The Times of seven years worth of sentencing data showed that Hilton’s 23-day jail stay was more than five times the average served since 2002 for similar offenses.
Hilton left the Lynwood jail wearing jeans and a white top and green jacket about 12:15 a.m. Tuesday. Her mother and father had pulled up to the front of the facility in a black Escalade to pick up their daughter. They took her to her grandparents’ Bel-Air home.
Before getting into the SUV, Hilton sauntered down the brick walkway, smiling and waving a few times and saying “Hi.”
The attention to the case has been a “global phenomenon,” said Steve Whitmore, the sheriff’s spokesman.
He said Baca was at a conference on global terrorism in Turkey recently and later met with police executives from Azerbaijan and Armenia. He said Baca told him: “Guess what they talked about on every leg of the trip. Paris Hilton.”
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