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Alleged Hilton perks in jail probed

The Sheriff's Department is investigating whether the heiress got special treatment, as some deputies have claimed.

July 13, 2007|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County jail officials vowed to treat Paris Hilton like any other inmate.

But the Sheriff's Department on Thursday launched an internal investigation into whether the hotel heiress got special perks while at the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood.

The department union, which has repeatedly clashed with Sheriff Lee Baca, said deputies have come forward to complain that Hilton had free access to a cellphone while other prisoners must wait in line to use pay phones during set hours.

Hilton also received daily visits from top brass at the Lynwood facility -- including a captain who hand-delivered her mail -- in contrast to others who get letters brought to them by inmate trusties, they said.

And officials were allegedly ordered to give her a new jail uniform while many inmates use recycled ones.

Two sheriff's officials -- who spoke on condition of anonymity -- confirmed those details of her incarceration.

Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Sheriff's Department's Office of Independent Review, said he would track the investigation. The internal affairs bureau is conducting the probe at the request of the department's head of custody.

"We want to make sure the department looks into these matters in an objective and thorough way," Gennaco said. "Whatever allegations of special treatment are reported, we will ensure there is an appropriate inquiry and report the results of those reviews."

Gennaco said his office was also examining other issues involving Hilton's custody that he would not detail.

Steve Whitmore, Baca's spokesman, said the department's information differed from what deputies told the union. "That's why we need to let the investigation get to the bottom of it," he said.

Until now, most of the debate surrounding Hilton's 23-day jail sentence has centered on whether Baca gave "The Simple Life" star special treatment by releasing her to home detention less than four full days into her sentence, due to an unspecified medical condition.

A Times analysis of jail data found that Hilton ended up serving more time than other inmates facing similar charges.

Before she was sentenced last month, Baca repeated that deputies and other employees at the jail were told to treat the 26-year-old heiress like any other inmate.

Hilton will "experience her incarceration as all other women will experience it," Baca told The Times before she went to jail. "She won't get better food, she won't get a different lockup time or a different environment."

He also warned Hilton to take her incarceration seriously, and said she would remain as isolated as possible and follow the same rules as other inmates.

Then he released her to home detention after crediting her for five days.

But Judge Michael T. Sauer ordered her back to jail, saying the sheriff did not make a case for a medical-related release.

Baca, who by then had placed Hilton in medical facilities at the Twin Towers downtown and then at the Lynwood jail, argued that she actually received a harsher sentence than those convicted of a comparable offense -- specifically, violating probation on a misdemeanor charge of alcohol-related reckless driving.

Hilton later told CNN's Larry King that she had been suffering from claustrophobia. ABC's Barbara Walters appeared to corroborate an allegation by the deputies union, saying she got a 2 a.m. call from the heiress as Hilton's family was negotiating with TV networks for an exclusive post-jail interview.

Baca also came under criticism last year when part of a deputy's report -- detailing Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade after the actor-director was stopped on suspicion of drunk driving on Pacific Coast Highway -- was not publicly released. The unabridged version later was leaked to TMZ.com. Baca and his deputies have insisted that they did nothing wrong.

Steve Remige, president of the Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs Assn., said the handling of the Hilton and Gibson cases shows "a pattern that Baca is beholden to the Hollywood set, and a form of patronage."

Whitmore defended Baca's handling of both cases. He noted that Gibson was charged and punished for driving drunk.

In the case of Hilton, if there was any special treatment, Whitmore said, "it came from the court's sentence, which was harsher than for other defendants facing similar charges."

andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com

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