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Media stake out Hilton's jail

The heiress isn't expected until Tuesday, but paparazzi and reporters are already settling in outside the Lynwood lockup.

June 02, 2007|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

Reporters and paparazzi were already setting up Friday outside the County Jail in an industrial section of Lynwood.

Inmates on work crews were busily posting "No Cellphone Camera" signs around the 1950s-era facility.

Officials opened a new media parking area.

It was all in preparation for what Sheriff Lee Baca on Friday called a jail sentence like no other, which is supposed to begin Tuesday when Paris Hilton arrives.

Sensing a media swarm, the sheriff laid down the law to Hilton and the paparazzi who are expected to stake out her stay.

Baca said deputies and other employees at the Century Regional Detention Center have been told to treat the 26-year-old heiress like any other inmate.

But even in a department used to housing celebrities, Baca acknowledged that Hilton was "in a class by herself," and said officials have taken aggressive steps that he hoped would prevent cameras from being smuggled into the jail -- which some photo agencies have said is a possibility because of the price a shot of Hilton in jail would bring. They said the first photos of her behind bars could sell for $500,000.

Hilton will remain as isolated as possible but will follow the same rules other inmates face.

"Paying a debt to society should not be an element of her celebrity," Baca said. "Her occupation is publicity, but no one should profit in jail."

Good luck, responded some top Hollywood photo agencies that expect Hilton's sentence to be the major "get" over the next few weeks.

"The reality is why don't they just let her walk down the concrete carpet?" said Frank Griffin, a co-owner of the Bauer-Griffin paparazzi agency. "This is going to be turned into an event like the Oscars."

Outside the Lynwood jail Friday, Ulrich Oppold, a reporter for German TV station RTL, agreed.

"She's the most famous inmate in the world," he said. "What better way to tell the story of the U.S. prison system?"

Francois Navarre, a co-owner of the X17 paparazzi agency, said his firm has been planning for weeks how to capture images of a jail-bound Hilton. It has talked to people familiar with the jail about what is visible from outside and where the best shots could be made.

Navarre said that because of the Sheriff's Department's security precautions, it will be tough to get shots of Hilton beyond the "blurry, grainy variety."

And he said a lot rides on whether Hilton makes her usual play to the cameras. "For once, I think she's going to be discreet as possible," he said. "It's too humiliating."

Judge Michael T. Sauer sentenced Hilton last month to 45 days in County Jail for violating the terms of her probation on a drunk driving plea after repeatedly driving her car while her license was suspended.

Because of state rules allowing shorter sentences for good behavior, sheriff's officials said she was likely to serve about 23 days behind bars.

Baca said it was unclear whether Hilton would surrender at Sauer's court or report directly to jail.

He said authorities would not allow her to "be seen in handcuffs

Once at the jail, Hilton would go through the normal intake process -- undergoing an interview by jail staff and evaluations for any medical or other needs, he said.

Hilton will be kept away from the general population of the jail, which houses about 2,200 women, and incarcerated in a "special needs" section. Baca said no decision had been made on whether Hilton would share her 10-foot by 8-foot cell with anyone.

Hilton will "experience her incarceration as all other women will experience it," Baca said. "She won't get better food, she won't get different lockup time or a different environment."

Even with a system that handled the likes of O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and other high-profile inmates, Baca called Hilton -- and the circus atmosphere surrounding her -- "the most unusual ever in the history of the department."

To deal with the crush of media, the Sheriff's Department has roped off two sections outside the jail as media staging areas.

If Hilton comes through the main entrance, she will cross a walkway with reporters on both sides of her -- a scene that some note is similar to the entrance at a red-carpet movie premiere.

A reporter from the French wire service AFP was scoping out the jail Friday. But she declined to comment on whether it was preparation for Hilton's arrival.

The sheriff said he hoped the media would leave Hilton alone while she serves her time.

"Jails are not circuses and not places where 'fun' is the priority," Baca said. "Jail should be a corrective learning experience."


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