Hours after a beaming Paris Hilton was freed from three weeks in jail, the sheriff criticized for briefly putting her under house arrest said on Tuesday he allowed her out because he feared for her life.
While stopping short of saying Hilton had been in danger of harming herself, Sheriff Lee Baca raised the issue of suicide in explaining why he released her to home detention -- a move that was swiftly overruled by a judge after a public uproar over whether she was given special treatment.
“I think we all in this room know something about suicide,” Baca, who runs the Los Angeles County jail system, told a hearing called by the five-member county Board of Supervisors.
“As the sheriff of this county, I’m not going to let any inmate die in our jails,” he said.
“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?”
Hilton’s publicist, Elliot Mintz, declined to comment on the sheriff’s remarks.
Hilton, 26, star of the reality TV show “The Simple Life,” originally was sentenced to 45 days in jail for violating probation in a drunken-driving case by driving her car on a suspended license.
After she had served just three full days behind bars, Baca placed her under home confinement with electronic monitoring, citing unspecified medical problems that he subsequently described as psychological.
Hilton later said she suffers from claustrophobia.
Baca’s move sparked an uproar over what many, including some county supervisors, saw as preferential treatment. Detractors said many county jail inmates suffer all manner of medical problems that go untreated.
The judge ordered Hilton back into custody a day later, ruling that Baca had overstepped his authority. Hilton trembled and wept throughout those proceedings, and she initially was transferred to the medical ward of another facility.
The multimillionaire socialite ended up serving just over 22 days -- including her day-long home confinement -- after her sentence was cut in half under a standard credit applied for good behavior.
Even so, Baca has insisted that her punishment far exceeded the time served by most county inmates for similar offenses -- a conclusion supported by a Los Angeles Times analysis of 1,500 cases like hers since 2002.
Explaining his decision to send Hilton home, Baca said there was confusion over the dosage and types of medications she needed for treatment of a health problem and that the doctors who prescribed them were unavailable to provide clarification.
“Ultimately, she was at a place where we couldn’t fix whatever that medical problem was with the resources we had,” he told the board of supervisors.
The desperate situation described by Baca contrasted sharply with the celebrity’s exuberant demeanor as she left the jail early on Tuesday, red-carpet Hollywood style, waving and smiling to scores of reporters and photographers.
Hilton, who has vowed to change her party-going ways and give new meaning to her life, was set to give her first post-jail interview on Wednesday on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”