L.A. Outrage Grows Over Paris Hilton
Sheriff Draws Fire, Lawsuits Over Hilton Mess
By SCOTT MICHELS
ABC News Law & Justice Unit
LOS ANGELES, June 13, 2007 —
Paris Hilton's parents braved a swarm of photographers Tuesday to visit their daughter for the first time since she was sent to jail last week.
As her parents supported her inside the county jail's medical wing, the fallout from "The Simple Life" star's arrest and incarceration continued to spread across Los Angeles.
At a hearing Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors pressured Sheriff Lee Baca to publicly explain why he had released Hilton from jail last week.
"She just wants just to do her time and get on," Kathy Hilton said Tuesday as she left the county jail after visiting her daughter, adding that Paris had not been sleeping much.
The L.A. media's Hilton-watch began early, with reporters gathering outside the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, a nondescript group of beige, blocklike buildings in downtown Los Angeles, before 7 a.m., with some arriving as early as 4 a.m.
Norma Lune, who arrived about 6 a.m. to make sure she could visit her son in jail, rolled her eyes at the gathering throng.
"No one here is paying attention to my son," she said.
But not everyone was put off, and some passersby joined the paparazzi on the sidewalk and waited for anyone who looked like they might be a Hilton. Onlooker Johnny Garcia thought this could be the beginning of a new career.
"This might be my big break," the 23-year-old bail bond company employee said, showing off a photo he had taken of Paris' sister, Nicky, when she visited Sunday.
"I saw all these guys and said that could be me," he said. "I'm going to start carrying this camera around everywhere. You never know when she might come out."
It probably won't be anytime soon. On May 4, Judge Michael Sauer sentenced Hilton to 45 days in jail for violating her probation on an alcohol-related reckless driving charge. Citing undisclosed health concerns, Baca released Hilton from jail June 7, three days into her sentence, and placed her under home confinement. The next day Sauer ordered Hilton back to jail to serve the rest of her sentence.
Hilton is expected to serve a total of 23 days after time off for good behavior.
Baca's decision prompted a torrent of outrage across the country at what seemed like special treatment for the hotel heiress. Though it is common for the sheriff's department to release prisoners early from L.A.'s notoriously packed jails because of overcrowding, it's rare for anyone to be released for medical reasons.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors echoed that outrage and stepped up the pressure on Baca, asking the sheriff to explain why Hilton had been released early. The board requested a written report detailing Baca's actions in the Hilton case by next week.
"We want to know what triggered this action by the sheriff," said Supervisor Don Knabe, adding that the board had received more than 2,000 e-mails about Hilton's release all of them critical of Baca.
"What throws everything upside down is the medical assessment," he said.
Baca was out of town Tuesday attending an anti-terrorism conference. A spokesman said the department would comply with board's request.
Supervisors and legal experts said Baca might have avoided the criticism if he had based his decision on overcrowding, rather than Hilton's medical problems.
"Baca dug himself into a tremendous hole by basing her release on the fact that she was not feeling well," said Raphael Sonenshein, a Cal State Fullerton political science professor who has written several books about L.A. politics.
"It's embarrassing," he said of the board's request, "but it's not going to cost him his job."
Lawsuits Expected, Recall Under Way
Sonenshein said he expected to see a slew of new lawsuits from inmates claiming they weren't treated as well as Hilton. What appears to be the first of these claims was filed Monday by a former county inmate named Pamela Richardson. Richardson, who served 20 days in the Century Regional Detention Center, alleges that sheriff's deputies refused to give her adequate medical treatment while she was in jail.
According to her claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, deputies removed Richardson's prosthetic leg and forced her to crawl to the bathroom while in jail. The claim says that Richardson, who is black, received "much worse treatment than Paris Hilton."
In more bad news for Baca, former county employee Andrew Ahlering has started a petition drive to recall the 65-year-old sheriff.
Ahlering acknowledged that it would be difficult to gather the roughly 390,000 signatures needed to get the recall on the ballot, but he said he hoped the public outcry over Hilton's case would prompt voters to sign on.
Ahlering, 27, is no stranger to controversy. He ran an unsuccessful bid for county supervisor last year, losing to Supervisor Gloria Molina. He also served 23 days in jail last year after allegedly disrupting a Board of Supervisors meeting. He was given probation after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor, and was ordered to keep away from board meetings.
Hilton 'Just Wants to Just Do Her Time'
Paris' parents, Kathy and Rick Hilton, arrived at the jail in a black Mercedes sedan shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday and were immediately swarmed by reporters and photographers. They had to be escorted to the jail by two deputies, who slowly pushed through the crowd.
The Hiltons were allowed to see their daughter when the jail's visitor center was closed for lunch a fact that rankled some less-than-famous visitors. Similar complaints were lodged Sunday, when Paris' sister, Nicky, waited a scant 15 minutes to see Paris, bypassing most of the long visitors line.
Art Hernandez, 27, said sheriff's deputies told him he would not be able to visit his brother Tuesday, even though he'd waited several hours to do so.
"It's not right," he said. "Paris gets visits when everything's closed because she's rich. We're supposed to be equal."
About 45 minutes later, the Hiltons emerged and the scene repeated itself.
Reporters again descended on the couple, who could barely move, and surrounded their car, shouting questions. A few chased the Mercedes down the block.
"Y'all make me not want to be rich anymore," Deseree Diehl, who was watching from the sidewalk, said to no one in particular.
A radio reporter turned to a cameraman and asked, "So, are you ashamed of yourself yet?"
As for Johnny Garcia, the amateur paparazzo, he jumped into a tree to get a clear shot of the Hiltons. He came away with a photo of the back of their heads, surrounded by cameras.
"That looks like it could be them, right?" he asked, smiling.
"That might be the money shot, right there," he said.