A 12-year-old girl found out the hard way that there’s no snacking allowed in the Washington, D.C. subway.
Seventh-grader Ansche Hedgepeth was handcuffed, booked and fingerprinted for eating French fries in a northwest Washington subway station.
Ansche told police she knew she wasn’t supposed to eat in the station but didn’t think she would get arrested. Ansche’s mother Tracey Hedgepeth, who has written a complaint letter to the Metro Transit Police Department, said police went too far.
“I can’t believe there isn’t a better way to teach kids a lesson,” she said. “The police treated her like a criminal.”
But Metro Transit Police Chief Barry J. McDevitt is unapologetic about the girl’s arrest last month and others like it.
“We really do believe in zero tolerance,” he said.
Commuter complaints about unlawful eating on Metro cars and in stations led McDevitt to mount an undercover crackdown on violators. A dozen plainclothes officers cited or arrested 35 people, 13 of them juveniles. Only one adult was arrested.
A Place Where Kids Go
Ansche said the station in northwest Washington where she was nabbed is “just a place where a lot of kids go. There’s a hot dog stand and Cafe Med, where I bought my fries.”
She said she took the elevator to the station with a friend. As the pair passed the station kiosk, a man stepped in front of Ansche.
“He said: ‘Put down your fries. Put down your book bag,’ “ Ansche said. “They searched my book bag and searched me. They asked me if I have any drugs or alcohol.”
Ansche said she has never been asked those questions or searched like that before. “I was embarrassed. I told my friend to call my mom, but I didn’t tell anybody else,” she said.
She said she never talked to the officer, although Metro police insist that she was asked whether she knew eating was against the law and that she said she did. They said anyone who doesn’t know about the law usually is given a warning first.
Signs warning that it is illegal to eat or drink on the cars and in the stations are posted in the Metro system.
She was taken to the detention center, where she was checked in, fingerprinted and held for her parents to pick her up.
If Ansche had been an adult, she simply would have received citations for fines up to $300. But juveniles who commit criminal offenses in the District of Columbia must be taken into custody, McDevitt said.
It is department policy to handcuff anyone who is arrested, no matter the age, he said.
In 1987, Iran-contra figure Fawn Hall was given a $10 fine for eating a banana in the Metro Center subway station. She was not arrested.
ABCNEWS Radio and the Associated Press contributed to this report.