On October 23, 2000, 12-year-old Ansche Hedgepeth of Washington, DC
was put in metal handcuffs, had the laces removed from her tennis shoes, and was arrested. She was questioned, searched, and taken away for eating french fries in a Metro
That week, Metro police had been ordered on an undercover crackdown on violators of the system's "No Food or Drink" rule. A dozen plainclothes transit officers cited or arrested 35 people, 13 of them juveniles; only one adult was arrested. The adults who received citations were charged $300 fines, but minors charged with criminal offenses in the District must be taken into custody - and anyone being arrested must be handcuffed.
From the station, the children were taken to a detention center, fingerprinted, and held until their parents arrived. Ansche Hedgepeth was given one of the sentences chosen by WMATA officials: required community service and counseling at the Boys and Girls Club.
The crackdown began as a result of frequent complaints from commuters, train conductors, and Metro personnel. Although signs are posted indicating eating and drinking are against the law in stations and on trains, the most common reaction is to look away - though some go so far as to glare disdainfully at the offender, who generally knows what they're doing wrong. The stated practice of Metro Transit Police is to give a warning to anyone who doesn't know about the law. Still, many commuters thought that actually arresting the children - commonly a problem around stations near schools, when the station becomes a popular hangout - was harsh. The founder of a subway riders advocacy group agreed it was an overreaction, but law enforcement officials insisted all other approaches have failed to make an impact.
When The Washington Post printed an article in mid-November about the incident, Ansche Hedgepeth was contacted by ABC's "Good Morning America" program, the BBC, and an Australian radio station. Her junior high school also insisted upon a conference to decide whether she should be allowed to remain on the school's double-dutch jump rope team or even be suspended from school, ostensibly because she stopped to buy the fries instead of going directly to the Metro. A month later, in mid-December, the transit police adopted a new policy where juveniles who break Metro's laws are not arrested, but instead sent to Youth Court, a program run jointly between WMATA and school authorities.
In February 2001, policy was further rewritten so anyone caught eating on Metro property could be given a written warning rather than a criminal citation. The written warnings would allow incidents to be tracked, but officers would have to make individual decisions about whether a $300 citation was warranted.
Sources are all Washington Post articles.
"Metro Snack Patrol Puts Girl in Cuffs," November 16, 2000 - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A28074-2000Nov15.html
"School May Punish Girl Who Ate in Metro Station," November 17, 2000 - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36208-2000Nov16.html
"Youthful Snackers On Metro Get Break," December 15, 2000 - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8508-2000Dec14.html
"Metro Police Get More Leeway Handling Traveling Snackers," February 27, 2001 - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A59303-2001Feb26.html