Pop star Britney Spears was wheeled out of her Los Angeles home on a gurney late Thursday and involuntarily hospitalized after a three-hour child-custody standoff with police and bodyguards for her ex-husband, Kevin Federline.
Even as the ambulance drove away, paparazzi who follow the singer everywhere ran behind the vehicle, holding up their cameras to shoot the troubled singer through the vehicle's rear windows.
Authorities were called to Spears' home in the 12000 block of Summit Circle about 8 p.m. Thursday after Federline's bodyguards went to her house to pick up Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, who were scheduled to return to their father's custody, authorities said.
By the time officers arrived at the home, Spears had turned over her younger son to the bodyguards but had locked herself in her bedroom/bathroom suite with Sean Preston, according to an LAPD supervisor familiar with the case. She was incoherent and arguing with officers in a way that made no sense, the supervisor said.
Los Angeles police determined Federline had custody of the children at that time, said Officer Ana Aguirre, a department spokeswoman. Officers waited about three hours before Spears agreed to leave the home; the children were turned over to Federline peacefully and with no injuries, officials said.
While officers were at the home, police said they found Spears under the influence of an unknown substance.
"There was some indication that medical treatment was needed," Aguirre said.
Spears was not arrested and was subsequently hospitalized "for her own welfare," said Officer April Harding, another LAPD spokeswoman.
LAPD Officer Karen Smith said police have the authority when they believe someone needs medical treatment to transport that person to a medical facility. She declined to say whether a 5150 hold -- a formal mental health detention used when people are determined to be a danger to themselves or others -- was used, citing federal medical confidentiality restrictions.
Television news footage showed two ambulances flanked by Los Angeles police cruisers and swarmed by paparazzi transporting Spears, 26, to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
The singer and Federline have been battling for custody of the boys; Federline has temporary custody, and Spears has limited visitation rights.
In September, an L.A. County court commissioner ordered Spears to get a parenting coach and undergo regular drug testing.
Thursday morning, Spears had showed up more than an hour late for a deposition in the case, and her attorneys announced they would no longer be representing her because of a breakdown in communications.
The episode is the latest troubling behavior from Spears. Her public antics began escalating shortly after she split with Federline in late 2005 after two years of marriage and two children. The move was initially welcomed by her longtime fans as a chance for a fresh start for the recording star, whose relationship with Federline began while his then-girlfriend, actress Shar Jackson, was pregnant with their second child.
Instead, since the split, Spears has generated tabloid story after tabloid story -- partying with Paris Hilton, entering and leaving rehab facilities, running over the feet of a sheriff's deputy and two paparazzi, feuding with her parents, and infamously paying to have her head shaved in a beauty salon last year, a decision captured by paparazzi who trail her everywhere.
Last month, her younger sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, 16, made headlines after she announced she is pregnant. Jamie Lynn stars on Zoey 101, a Nickelodeon show with a large preteen following.
Susannah Rosenblatt and Richard Winton write for the Los Angeles Times.