WASHINGTON – A government scientist finishing a candy bar on her way into a subway station where eating is prohibited was arrested, handcuffed and detained for three hours by transit police.
Stephanie Willett said she was eating a PayDay (search) bar on an escalator descending into a station July 16 when an officer warned her to finish it before entering the station. Both Willett and police agree that she nodded and put the last bit into her mouth before throwing the wrapper into a trash can.
Willett, a 45-year-old Environmental Protection Agency (search) scientist, told radio station WTOP that the officer then followed her into the station, one of several in downtown Washington.
"Don't you have some other crimes you have to take care of?" Willett said she told the officer.
Washington has been under heightened security because of the continuing threat of terrorism. And last week, police declared a citywide crime emergency over rising juvenile crime.
The transit police officer asked for Willett's identification, but Willett kept walking. She said she was then frisked and handcuffed.
"If she had stopped eating, it would have been the end of it and if she had just stopped for the issuance of a citation, she never would have been locked up," Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson said Thursday.
Metrorail (search) has been criticized in the past for heavy-handed enforcement of the eating ban. In 2000, a police officer handcuffed a 12-year-old girl for eating a french fry on a subway platform.
In 2002, one of their officers ticketed a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy patient for cursing when he was unable to find a working elevator to leave a station. Unflattering publicity eventually led the police to void the ticket.
Willett was the second person arrested this year for eating or drinking, Hanson said. In addition, police have issued 58 tickets and given more than 300 written warnings.