Staff editorial: Fried faux pas

Metro police arrested 12-year-old Ansche Hedgepeth for eating French fries in the Tenleytown Metro station last month. Officers handcuffed the child and searched her bag for drugs and alcohol. Although Metro Transit Police has the right intentions – to keep the transit system clean by enforcing the law – its treatment of Hedgepeth illustrates that methods employed to curb commuter waste are sometimes too extreme.

Officers had little choice but to arrest Hedgepeth because D.C. law mandates juveniles charged with criminal offenses must be taken into police custody. But overzealous officers constrained by the Metro’s zero-tolerance policy against food, beverages and smoking in stations overstepped boundaries and violated Hedgpeth’s constitutional rights.

After stopping Hedgepeth, the arresting officer proceeded to search Hedgepeth’s book bag and ask if she had any alcohol or drugs, according to The Washington Post. Eating fries on the Metro does not constitute probable cause for suspicion of drug and alcohol possession. Searching a commuter’s personal possessions for violating a no-eating policy is a gross overstepping of police authority.

Hedgepeth was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The station, which 3,000 students access a day, was the subject of a week-long undercover operation. During the crackdown, police arrested or cited 35 people, including 13 juveniles.

The Transit Police has the duty to maintain a clean Metro system – a hallmark of D.C. But that duty should not overshadow the department’s first responsibility – respecting passenger rights.

Hedgepeth and other juveniles caught eating food inside Metro stations should face warnings or citations, not handcuffs. Eating food in the Metro is a minor offense and should be treated like one.

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