In a bizarre case of overzealous government run amok, Washington, D.C.’s Department of Public Works branded a two-year-old girl with the ominous title: VIOLATOR — and slapped her with a $75 ticket in the mail for littering.
“I opened up an envelope that listed Harper as having violated D.C.’s littering code,” said the toddler’s mother, Theresa, according to a local CBS affiliate. “And Harper goes, ‘littering, that’s not good.’”
In an alley directly behind Harper Westover’s home, Public Works workers discovered two unopened envelopes — one bearing Theresa’s name and the other addressed to the toddler from Bucky’s Buddies, a club for young fans of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, as the Washington Post reported.
Appalled her daughter had received a citation for littering, Theresa — an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board — contacted the solid waste inspector listed on the ticket to clear up the obvious confusion.
But, to her astonishment, things didn’t go as planned.
“The inspector’s response was there was a piece of trash in the alley with Harper’s name on it,” Theresa told the Post in a phone interview. “I said, ‘I understand that, but she’s only 2 years old. Are you willing rescind the ticket?’ She said, ‘No.’
“They list Harper as a ‘violator.’ As a mom, it bothered me.”
Public Works issued two $75 tickets — one for each piece of mail — but Theresa insisted the family would never intentionally litter, and it’s likely the two letters somehow came loose from the trash bin they place in the alley each week for garbage pickup.
She surmised that because large garbage trucks cannot fit in the narrow alley, the advance team which drags everyone’s trash to the main road either forgot a bag or the letters somehow came loose. Either way, Theresa emphasized none of the Westover clan is a litterbug — and Public Works jumped to a conclusion based solely on the envelopes’ addressees.
After being rebuffed by the solid waste inspector, Chuck Westover — Theresa’s husband and father of the young child — posted a picture of Harper’s ticket to a popular blog called Popville, which then published it with the title: “Today in Has the World Gone Mad? 2 year old issued littering citation in NE.”
Comments overwhelmingly supported the Westovers — some with humorously sarcastic overtones.
“I’m glad we’re not letting these young punks get away with this kind of antisocial behavior,” wrote one commenter, cited by the Post. “Garnishing her allowance for the next three years will teach her an important lesson!”
“This is idiotic,” asserted another. “What this is basically saying is that if a USPS worker accidentally dropped or purposely threw your mail on the ground, you are responsible for littering. Or if a thief stole a package and threw the packaging on the ground, or if the trash truck driver dropped some trash containing something with your name on it.”
Despite the online uproar over the haplessly-issued citation, Public Works still tried to demand proof of Harper’s age before it would agree to dismiss the ticket.
“She told me they’d be willing to withdraw the ticket or dismiss it, or whatever word you’d like to use, if I could prove to them Harper was only 2,” said Theresa.
They requested a copy of Harper’s birth certificate — which Theresa was prepared to send, until events again took a turn.
Early Friday evening, mother and daughter readied themselves in the alley for an interview with local TV stations, when Andre Lee, a spokesperson for DPW, arrived on the scene to better understand the situation.
“I heard that it was a 2-year-old illegal dumper,” Lee said, “so I’m like wow, really?”
Upon seeing the toddler, Lee agreed to waive both tickets — much to Theresa’s relief.
“I apologized to them for the mistake, but we’re doing our jobs,” Lee explained. “But it shouldn’t have gotten this far.”
Harper’s mother agreed, noting, “There needs to be some common sense layered into the system somewhere.”
According to the CBS affiliate, the Westovers hope the controversy over issuing a citation to a two-year-old will force DPW to more thoroughly investigate before handing out such tickets.
“She’s not a criminal,” said Harper’s father. “We talk to her all the time about picking up trash and not littering and stuff like that. So, the big irony is that she was tagged with this violation.”
Harper, luckily, remains blissfully unaware of her brush with inane bureaucracy.