Washington – The commander of a District of Columbia police division who publicly clashed with the chief over the use and frequency of police escorts for celebrities after the Charlie Sheen escort has been demoted.
Hilton Burton said he was transferred out of the special operations division and demoted to captain in the medical clinic for injured officers. He said he believes his demotion was in response to his June appearance before the D.C. Council, in which he said police escorts were routinely provided for celebrities visiting Washington. The testimony contradicted statements by Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who said a police escort from a northern Virginia airport for Sheen in April violated department policy and that escorts weren't generally intended for celebrities.
Lanier told reporters Tuesday the demotion had nothing to with Burton's testimony, though she did call his Council hearing comments inaccurate. She said there were multiple issues involving Burton that had been under review even before he testified, though she declined to be specific.
She said in a written statement that the demotion was "based on a review of command decisions, including several critical incidents" and a recommendation from Burton's supervisor.
Burton said he learned of his demotion during a meeting Monday with Lamar Greene, his immediate supervisor, and Assistant Chief Alfred Durham.
"They told me that the chief had lost confidence in my ability" to lead, Burton said.
He said he was told that department management was unhappy with his performance during two barricade situations and with how notification for overtime opportunities for special details was communicated to other members of the police force. But Burton said he was skeptical that those were the real reasons.
"All those instances occurred months ago, all of them were handled, and all of them were justifiable," Burton said. "It wasn't even about those incidents and my performance. It was all about my testimony before the City Council, and I told them that specifically."
Sheen was escorted with flashing lights and sirens April 19 from Dulles International Airport to a performance at DAR Constitution Hall in the city. Lanier said several elements of the escort, including the speed and use of sirens, broke department policy. She said escorts were not generally intended for celebrities, though police documents released subsequently revealed that public figures including Jay-Z, Bill Gates and Billy Joel have all received escorts in the city.
Burton testified June 23 that escorts for celebrities were commonplace and had even occurred in the years when Lanier was commander of the special operations division. Lanier later said that she's never approved any escorts for celebrities.
Lanier did not immediately name a new special operations commander.
In June, two city police officers assigned to the unit that provided the Sheen escort were removed from the department's Special Operations Division. Lanier said then that the transfers weren't punishment for the escort.