Mouthful Gets Metro Passenger Handcuffs and Jail
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2004; Page A01
Stephanie Willett is a 45-year-old scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from Bowie whose skirmishes with the law had largely been limited to a couple of speeding tickets.
Until she was caught chewing inside a Metro station.
About 6:30 p.m. July 16, Willett was eating a PayDay candy bar while riding the escalator from 11th Street NW into the Metro Center Station. Metro Transit Police Officer Cherrail Curry-Hagler was riding up.
The police officer warned Willett to finish the candy before entering the station because eating or drinking in the Metro system is illegal.
Willett nodded, kept chewing the peanut-and-caramel bar and stuffed the last bit into her mouth before throwing the wrapper into the trash can near the station manager's kiosk, according to both Willett and Curry-Hagler.
Curry-Hagler turned around and followed Willett into the station. Moments after making a remark to the officer, Willett said, she was searched, handcuffed and arrested for chewing the last bite of her candy bar after she passed through the fare gates. She was released several hours later after paying a $10 fine, pending a hearing.
"We've been doing our best to crack down on people who are consuming food and beverages in our stations because we get so many complaints about it," said Lisa Farbstein, a Metro spokeswoman. "In this instance, the woman was given a warning, which she ignored, and she jammed the rest of the candy bar into her mouth and continued to chew."
Willett said she was being unfairly punished because she made fun of the police officer after Curry-Hagler issued a second warning before the arrest.
"Why don't you go and take care of some real crime?" Willett said she told the officer while still swallowing the PayDay bar as she rode a second escalator to catch her Orange Line train home.
The police officer ordered Willett to stop and produce identification. "I said, 'For what?' and kept walking," Willett said.
In a report, Curry-Hagler said she wanted to issue a citation for eating on the Metro but the PayDay lover refused to stop.
"Next thing I knew, she pushed me into the cement wall, calls for backup and puts handcuffs on me," Willett said.
She said Curry-Hagler patted her down, running her hands around Willett's bust, under her bra and around her waist. Two other officers appeared, and the three took Willett to a waiting police cruiser.
At the D.C. police 1st District headquarters, Willett said, she was locked in a cell with another person. At 9:30 p.m., after she paid a $10 fine, Willett was released to her husband.
"It was humiliating," said Willett, who is to appear in court in October. "It was a complete waste of taxpayers' money and the officers' time as well as mine. It was just about her trying to retaliate against me because I made a comment about how insignificant I thought the matter was."
"I understand the intent of them not wanting people to eat in the Metro," Willett said. "If anything, I was chewing in the Metro."
Farbstein said Willett violated the rules. "Chewing is eating," she said.
Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's) complained in writing to Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White. "They have better things to do than arrest someone for that," said Green, who has not received a response. "It just seemed way out of bounds."
Metro occasionally has come under fire for what some considered extreme enforcement of its no-eating rules. The best-known example was in 2000, when a transit police officer handcuffed a 12-year-old girl for eating a single french fry on a subway platform.
The incident catapulted Metro into the national spotlight, and talk radio hosts debated whether the agency had gone too far in its devotion to order. A federal judge later said the police were "foolish" to arrest the girl but ruled that Metro did not violate her constitutional rights.
The candy bar arrest follows several recent decisions by Metro that have angered passengers. Metro tried to run two-car trains late at night to save money, but the cars became very crowded. And the transit agency started requiring passengers to pay for parking with SmarTrip electronic fare cards but soon found it was running out of cards.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company