Metro Transit Police are being criticized for excessive use of force after a video posted Tuesday showed an officer pushing and tripping a high school student, knocking her to the ground, after she refused to throw away a bag of potato chips and a lollipop.
The three-minute video, posted by a member of the District’s Black Lives Matter chapter, shows the 18-year-old in handcuffs, surrounded by three police officers, just outside the fare gates at Columbia Heights station.
“All right, sit down,” one officer says. “Sit down.”
The handcuffed teen refuses, crying, “No!”
The officer then hooks his arm behind her elbow and kicks backward against her calf, knocking her to the ground as people watching and filming the altercation gasp.
The teen props herself up against the wall, and the officer pushes on her shoulder and forces her back down.
“Sit down!” he yells.
“Stop touching me!” she yells back.
The teen is not identified in a transit police arrest report, but officials say she is 18 years old. She was arrested for unlawful entry, and police took her to a D.C. police station. The report said she was not injured during the arrest.
Metro spokesman Richard L. Jordan said police decided not to pursue charges. He declined to comment on whether officers handled the incident appropriately or whether excessive force was used.
The person who posted the footage on YouTube said in the video description that the girl is 17, not 18, and a student at Bell Multicultural High School. The description also said that an officer “slammed her against the car” when she was transported to the police station.
On Twitter, the Black Lives Matter chapter criticized the arrest, saying the footage shows transit police “violently interacting with Black bodies as usual.”
According to the arrest report, the incident happened just after 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Police said the teenager was on the paid side of the fare gates, holding a bag of potato chips, and an officer told her to put the food away.
Metro bans customers from eating or drinking on trains and in stations.
The police report said the teenager “responded with a defiant ‘No!’ ” Police then told her twice that she would need to leave the station if she didn’t put her food way. When she refused, the arrest report said, the officer reached for her wrist and placed handcuffs on her.
The video begins after that.
After the teenager is knocked to the ground, she refuses to tell police her age or give them her student identification. One officer then opens her backpack and begins searching inside.
“You didn’t have to put it that tight,” she says, apparently talking about the handcuffs. She then demands to know why officers are searching her bag and asks a friend to remove it.
The yellow bag of potato chips sits in the foreground of the shot until an officer slides it away with his foot.
A crowd is gathered around the fare gates, with more than one person appearing to made a video recording of the arrest.
The officer who knocked the teenager to the floor starts to shoo away the growing crowds, instructing bystanders to get on a train or leave the station.
“Thanks for riding Metro,” he says. “You guys have a good day.”
In the video, a bystander explains to others in the crowd that the teenager had been holding a bag of chips and a lollipop.
“Oh, goodness. Because she had a lollipop? That is outrageous,” says one woman watching the officers search the student’s backpack. “That is ridiculous.”
Some of the bystanders began speaking directly to the officers.
“You could have told her to put it away, or [taken] the lollipop . . . that is crazy,” one says.
An officer turns to the crowd, arguing back.
“Well, we asked her for the lollipop, we asked her for the food, and she refused and told me she wasn’t going to do it,” the officer says. “That’s why she’s under arrest.”
“It’s a little girl!” says the bystander.
“Little girls can break the law! Little girls can get arrested like everybody else!” the officer responds. “And she goes to juvenile detention and her mom comes and picks her up. That’s how it works!”
It’s not the first time Metro Transit Police have come under fire for their handling of snack scofflaws. In 2004, a 45-year-old employee of the Environmental Protection Agency was arrested at Metro Center for chewing on the last bite of a PayDay candy bar as she passed through the fare gates. She was released several hours later after paying a $10 fine.
And in 2000, a 12-year-old girl made international headlines when she was arrested for eating a french fry at the Tenleytown-AU station. If she had been an adult, police would have issued her a citation and fine, but because they cannot fine minors, they charged her with a criminal offense and took her into custody.
Her case was ultimately brought before the U.S. Court of Appeals. The incident led Metro to change its policy, mandating that minors caught snacking on trains or in stations receive three written warnings before they can be charged.
Correction: This story was changed to reflect that prosecutors decided not to pursue charges. It originally said charges were dropped.