Dispute over eating pastry leads to arrest in city subway station

November 01, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

What started as a simple citation for eating pastry in a downtown subway station escalated into an altercation that ended with an MTA police officer using pepper spray to subdue a 23-year-old substitute teacher this week.

Most facts of what happened in the Lexington Market subway station shortly before 8 a.m. Monday are not in dispute. But Erica White of Cherry Hill is threatening to sue over what she calls an excessive reaction to her refusal to sign the citation for eating in the station.

Although Mass Transit Administration police officials are investigating the incident, Chief Bernard Foster stands behind Officer Denise Briscoe, a four-year veteran, saying she appears to have followed proper procedures both for using pepper spray and arresting White.

White said she was on her way to work at Dr. Lillie M. Jackson Elementary School in West Baltimore, waiting for the subway at the Lexington Market station when she started eating a piece of pastry. She said she stopped when she saw the police officer coming down the escalator.

"I took one bite out of it, and I put it away. She came down and she asked me for some identification. I said, 'Do you think you could just let me off?' " White said.

But the officer wrote the citation and handed it to White for her signature.

"I said, 'You can give it to me, but I'm not going to sign it,' " White said. "I figured she could put 'refused to sign' and give it to me. She started yelling at me, saying refusing to sign this ticket could lead to your arrest."

Briscoe and White then started to struggle, but there are differing accounts of who initiated the contact.

The officer "escalated the situation that led to my arrest," White said. "She grabbed me as if I was fighting her. I said, 'Wait a minute, what are you doing?' She said, 'Do you want me to spray you?' Then she took out her pepper spray and sprayed me."

But Foster gives a different account.

White "was asked on three or possibly four occasions to sign the citation, and each time she refused to sign it," he said. "At that point, the officer had no recourse than to take the individual into custody."

It was White who then caused the disturbance, Foster said, "using profanities, referring to the police officers as rent-a-cops."

"She became disruptive to the point that a small crowd gathered in the station," he said. "From that point [when someone is resisting arrest], using pepper spray is the next step above the spoken word, and it was used by the officer."

White, who spent 14 hours in jail, said she plans to file a lawsuit.

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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