A smiling Paris Hilton walked out of a Los Angeles County jail early Tuesday, officially ending a bizarre, three-week stay that ignited furious debate over celebrity treatment in the jail system.
The 26-year-old celebutante was greeted by an enormous gathering of cameras and reporters upon leaving the all-women's facility in Lynwood about 15 minutes past midnight. She had checked into the Century Regional Detention Facility late June 3, largely avoiding the spotlight, after a surprise appearance at the MTV Movie Awards.
Hilton smiled and waved as she filed past deputies and the media, her blonde hair pulled back in a braided ponytail. Her parents, Kathy and Rick, waited in a black SUV. Hilton hurried to the vehicle, where she hugged her mom through the window.
"She fulfilled her debt. She was obviously in good spirits. She thanked people as she left," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Photographers sprinted after Hilton's vehicle as she left. When the SUV hit a red light during the ride, photographers jumped out of their cars and swarmed it.
After spending only three days there, she was released to home confinement by Sheriff Lee Baca for an unspecified medical condition that he later said was psychological.
Hilton's stay there cost taxpayers $1,109.78 a day, more than 10 times the cost of housing inmates in the general population.
The move by Baca caused a firestorm of criticism over whether the celebrity was getting special treatment. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has launched an investigation into whether the multimillionaire received special treatment because of her wealth and fame.
At least one person has filed a claim against the county alleging she "had serious medical issues" but was not treated as well as Hilton.
A few days into her stint at the Twin Towers medical ward, the heiress said in a phone call to Barbara Walters that she had a new outlook.
"I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute," Hilton said during the call, according to an account posted June 11 by Walters on ABC's Web site.
"It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me," Hilton was quoted as saying.
Hilton's path to jail began Sept. 7, when she failed a sobriety test after police saw her weaving down a street in her car on what she said was a late-night run to a hamburger stand.
She pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to 36 months' probation, alcohol education and $1,500 in fines.
In the months that followed, she was stopped twice by officers who discovered her driving with a suspended license. The second stop landed her in Sauer's courtroom, where he sentenced her to 45-days in jail. She was released after three weeks for reasons including good behavior.