- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Metro is being sued for arresting and handcuffing a girl caught eating french fries at a Red Line station in October, which her attorneys say is a violation of her constitutional rights.
The lawsuit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court, also names D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Metro General Manager Richard A. White as defendants.
It does not seek damages but asks that Ansche Hedgepeth's criminal record be expunged and Metro policy be changed to prohibit arrests of juveniles who violate the rule against eating and drinking. The lawsuit also requests that the D.C. law that transit police say forces them to arrest juveniles be ruled unconstitutional.
Tracey V. Hedgepeth, the plaintiff in the case, said her 13-year-old daughter is her only interest.
"It's her future I'm concerned about," Ms. Hedgepeth said in a phone interview. "That this doesn't follow her around."
Ansche, a seventh-grader at Deal Junior High School in Northwest, was one of about a dozen juveniles arrested during an undercover operation at the Tenleytown-American University station by Metro Transit Police in October.
No other families have joined Ms. Hedgepeth in the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville-based civil liberties group.
The lawsuit claims Ansche's constitutional rights were violated on two fronts: through the D.C. law that does not allow police officers to issue citations to juveniles, and by an unreasonable search and seizure.
The D.C. law "violate[s] the Equal Protection clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution insofar as they draw an impermissible distinction between juveniles and adults," the lawsuit states.
Her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure were violated, the lawsuit says, when she was handcuffed, had her shoelaces removed and her book bag ransacked. Ansche, who was 12 at the time, was taken to a police station, where she was fingerprinted and questioned for more than two hours before her mother was contacted, according to the lawsuit.
"She was treated like a criminal, and that was wrong," said Randal M. Shaheen, an attorney with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter who is representing the plaintiff pro bono.
Metro spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said yesterday the transit agency could not comment because the matter was in litigation.
A D.C. police spokesman referred questions about the lawsuit to the Office of Corporation Counsel, the District's legal arm that represents agencies in lawsuits.
A senior official at OCC said she had no comment on the lawsuit.
Metro officials argue transit police had no choice but to arrest the youths because of a 1982 D.C. law preventing Metro's officers from giving citations to juveniles for the minor offense.
Adult violators typically receive citations of up to $300 for eating on the train or in the station. Ansche was ordered to perform community service at a Boys and Girls Club in the District and has had to undergo counseling.
After public outcry, Metro changed its policy in February and transit police began issuing written warnings to juveniles caught eating and drinking in Metro facilities.
The case is turned over to the courts if a juvenile receives three written warnings within a year. The court then decides what punishment, if any, is meted out.
Parents receive a letter each time their child is issued a written warning. In the District, the juvenile's school also receives a copy of the letter.
Mr. Shaheen said Metro's about-face in dealing with snacking scofflaws was an admission that the policy was wrong.
"If [arresting juveniles] was so important, then why did they stop?" Mr. Shaheen asked. "The very fact that Metro has changed policies leads us to believe that Metro doesn't have a very credible defense for their old polices."
John W. Whitehead founder and director of the nonprofit Rutherford Institute, which is paying any related court costs said his group was approached by Ms. Hedgepeth.
"I just thought this was so unreasonable," Mr. Whitehead said. "Why handcuff children?"
John Drake contributed to this report.


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