Sergeant to the stars calls it quits
November 30, 2011
The photo captions dub him the “unidentified man,” whether he’s escorting Lindsay Lohan through a blizzard of golden confetti or guiding Mel Gibson through a gauntlet of paparazzi.
But everybody who’s anybody in Los Angeles County courthouse and government circles knows that the tall, broad-shouldered figure in those pictures is Steve Wheatcroft.
The veteran county sheriff’s sergeant has long been an unsung but essential player on the front lines of L.A.’s celebrity-media circus, bringing decorum and safety to the courtroom comings and goings of America’s most photographed.
He’s been responsible for the security of judges like Lance Ito, who presided over O.J. Simpson’s murder trial. He’s made sure that defendants like Lohan, Gibson, Phil Spector and Dr. Conrad Murray made it through media scrums and into courtrooms with a minimum of chaos. And whenever a threat is made against a Los Angeles County judge or member of the Board of
Supervisors, Wheatcroft and his team have jumped into action.
But now, after more than two decades of rubbing shoulders with L.A.’s famous and infamous, Wheatcroft is ready for a little family time.
“As they always say at the Super Bowl, I’m going to Disneyland,” said Wheatcroft, 54, who will retire in the next few weeks after more than 32 years on the job.
Instead of heading up the sheriff’s Security Operations Unit—which assesses threats on public officials, helps manage high-profile trial logistics and provides protection to supervisors and judges—he’ll be hanging with his eight (soon to be nine) grandchildren and cruising around in his black ’59 Corvette.
Leaving the job is kind of like leaving the family business for Wheatcroft, whose brother and son also work for the sheriff’s department.
More than anything, he said, he’ll miss the camaraderie of the eight-member unit that he joined back when it was just a two-man operation run out of the county marshal’s office. When the marshal’s office merged with the Sheriff’s Department in 1994, Wheatcroft’s unit took over protective services for the supervisors as well as the judges. As part of the job, he has served as sergeant-at-arms for the Board of Supervisors’ meetings and helped with logistics for visiting dignitaries ranging from Muhammad Ali to Kirk Douglas.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, the supervisors gave Wheatcroft a big send-off.
“All I can say is this is the sweetest cop you will ever meet,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina. “But that doesn’t take away the kind of commanding presence that he has had here at the board.”
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky saluted his professionalism and ability to “defuse situations that could have gone the other way,” including threats made against the supervisor or his staff. “You put me and my family at ease during those moments,” Yaroslavsky told Wheatcroft.
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich thanked Wheatcroft and also singled out his work in the courts. Ticking off a long list of celebrity defendants the sergeant has escorted, he noted: “You could see him in all the movie magazines.”
Which is true, actually, but doesn’t seem to have gone to his head.
Over the years, the “unidentified man” in all those photos has had the chance to observe a lot of famous people under difficult circumstances.
Lohan, Wheatcroft said, is “just kind of a confused girl” who told him she “likes to party.”
Nicest celeb? That would be Rod Stewart, whom Wheatcroft accompanied during a week-long civil proceeding at the courthouse. The British rocker was, in Wheatcroft’s words, “a humble, appreciative person.”
Close followers of the O.J. Simpson case may remember the time the jury, lawyers and judge in the so-called “trial of the century” took a field trip to Simpson’s Rockingham Avenue estate. Wheatcroft arranged it. He did the same with an excursion to Vitello’s restaurant during the Robert Blake case.
And—as if Los Angeles County didn’t have enough of its own well-known defendants—Wheatcroft has been called in to advise officials elsewhere in the U.S.and Canada on how to handle high-profile proceedings. He’s written on the subject in Officer magazine.
By his side throughout has been his high-school sweetheart and now-wife, Wanda. After the board send-off Tuesday, she said her husband had often shared tales from his star-studded work over the years.
“But only in an entertaining way,” she said, “never in a complaining way.”