Sheriff: I Was Trying to Save Paris's Life

06/26/2007 at 06:50 PM EDT

Sheriff: I Was Trying to Save Paris's Life
Baca and Hilton
Damian Dovarganes/AP; Gus Ruelas/AP
Hours after Paris Hilton's release from jail, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was called before lawmakers Tuesday to justify why he had initially transferred her to home confinement.

"Our doctors said we had no solution to Hilton's medical problems. None," insisted Baca, who did not elaborate on Hilton's illness. "As a sheriff in this county, I'm not going to let any inmate die in this jail."

Baca, whose department runs the jails, spoke to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which oversees sheriff's funding. Baca and the board have long clashed over the budget and its impact on the jail population.

The sheriff, an elected official, said his decision to place Hilton in home-confinement was also motivated by a federal mandate to relieve jail overcrowding that results in early release of minor offenders.

"What's worth more," he asked, "a person spending time in a county jail for driving on a suspended license or a person losing her life?"

Baca held up a medical report, and said Hilton had two doctors prescribing different medications.

"She was at a place where we couldn't fix whatever that medical problem was with the resources we have. We knew this problem was not going to get better," Baca said. "We were placed in a very unusual and awkward position with Ms. Hilton."

But the supervisors questioned the severity of Hilton's health problem. "She looked pretty healthy at the MTV Awards before going into jail," said Supervisor Don Knabe.

Baca explained that, eventually, Hilton's doctors "gave us the right information concerning her medication."

But the larger issues remained, he said. Baca said he has dwindling space, and most of it has to go to felons awaiting sentencing.

"Everyone who goes in to serve county jail time is early released," Baca said. "If Ms. Hilton got preferential treatment, it's that she spent more time in the county jail than the average inmate."

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