Several Metro board members said they want to review the transit system's enforcement of its rule against eating and drinking after a woman was handcuffed, arrested and charged with chewing a candy bar in the Metro Center Station.
"It's a question of striking the right balance," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who represents the District on the Metro board. "I'm not advocating to lift the rule or relax the rule; I'm looking for ways to avoid people ending up in handcuffs for chewing a candy bar."
Charles Deegan, who represents Prince George's County on the board, said he thought the Transit Police officer who made the arrest overreacted. "She probably needs -- what do you call it? -- an attitude adjustment," said Deegan, who joined Graham and board member Gladys W. Mack of the District in calling for a review of the policy.
But Metro Police Chief Polly Hanson said Officer Cherrail Curry-Hagler tried to issue a citation to Stephanie Willett and was forced to arrest her because she refused to stop and produce identification. "The reason she got locked up is because she wouldn't stop to let us give her a ticket," said Hanson, who added that she is investigating the arrest but that it appears her officer acted in line with department procedures.
News of the arrest lit up phones at talk radio stations and brought Willett national attention.
About 6:30 p.m. July 16, Willett was eating a PayDay candy bar while riding the escalator from 11th Street NW into the station. Curry-Hagler, who was riding up on another escalator, warned Willett to finish the candy before entering the station.
Willett nodded but kept chewing the peanut-and-caramel bar as she walked through the fare gates. Curry-Hagler, who had turned around and followed Willett, warned her again as she 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 the officer.
Curry-Hagler told Willett to stop and produce identification because she intended to write a citation, Hanson said. Willett said she refused to stop and told the officer, "Why don't you go and take care of some real crime?" while still chewing the PayDay bar as she rode a second escalator to catch her Orange Line train.
At that point, Willett said, Curry-Hagler grabbed her and patted her down, running her hands around Willett's bust, under her bra and around her waist. She put Willett in a police cruiser and took her to the D.C. police 1st District headquarters, where she was locked in a cell. At 9:30 p.m., after she paid a $10 fee, Willett was released to her husband. She is scheduled to appear in court in October for a hearing.
Willett, a 45-year-old scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency who lives in Bowie, said she was arrested because she talked back to a police officer.
Hanson said that isn't true. "It's an indication of her state of mind," Hanson said. "The ridership of the Metro is highly educated and maybe getting stopped and having your behavior corrected in front of people isn't something you think you should have to put up with. Her actions led to her arrest. The verbiage is just an indication of how uncooperative she was."
Willett's arrest for eating was the second this year. Since Jan. 1, transit police have fined 58 other snackers on the Metro and given 308 written warnings.
Hanson said her police take the no-eating and no-drinking rule seriously because of complaints by the public about greasy wrappers, empty bottles and sticky spills. "Some people who've been riding this system for years feel it's pretty dirty right now," she said.
T. Dana Kauffman, who represents Fairfax County on the Metro board, said he supports the candy bar arrest. "Fundamentally, people don't want to be sitting in food, looking at food or listening to food," he said.
Policies vary elsewhere. In Chicago and San Francisco, eating and drinking are prohibited on subways and buses. But in New York and Boston, food is sold inside stations, and no one bats an eye at snackers.
"You can have your Doritos and soda on the train," said Lydia Rivera, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. "Just take your garbage with you."