A Jericho woman is suing the Long Island Rail Road and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police for false arrest, battery and violating her civil rights after she was held for more than three hours because a conductor wrongfully believed that she had used a counterfeit train ticket.
In a statement, LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said railroad officials "regret the unfortunate incident that led to the detention" of the woman, Lara Tepper, 25, and that she was released "as soon as it was determined" that the ticket was real.
Tepper took the 5:27 p.m. train from Hicksville bound for Penn Station on Aug. 5 to meet some friends for dinner in Manhattan, she said. Minutes after boarding, Tepper said a female conductor came by to punch the 10-trip ticket she had purchased for $66 in July. She had already used it four times.
"She looked at it, felt it for a couple of minutes, and said it's fake," Tepper recalled. The conductor told her it was missing an MTA logo hologram "Watch the gap" warning usually found on tickets, Tepper said.
Tepper insisted the ticket was legitimate, but the conductor told her she could take it up with a manager when she arrived at Penn Station. Instead, she was met at the station by several police officers who escorted her into a 6-foot-by-6-foot holding cell at the MTA police's offices in the station.
There, she was patted down, had her purse searched, her battery removed from her cell phone and was made to remove her shoes and belt.
"At this point, I was hysterical, because I realized what was going on," said Tepper, who feared she would be arrested. She said police told her she could be fingerprinted, spend the night in the cell and have to face a judge in the morning.
Tepper said it wasn't until later that anyone bothered to check her story. Eventually, a lieutenant took her ticket to a veteran LIRR conductor, who scratched the back of the ticket to reveal a hidden MTA logo, she said.
Police then checked with employees at the Hicksville office, where she said she bought the ticket. They confirmed it was sold to her, but printed on a stock that had been out of circulation for years, Tepper said.
More than three hours after Tepper boarded her train, she was released with an apology and a brand new 10-trip ticket.
Calderone said the LIRR plans to "issue a reminder notice to all appropriate personnel on how to recognize valid ticket stock." He added that modern computer graphics capabilities "make forged tickets a real issue for the LIRR."But there was no excuse for treating Tepper like "a common criminal," said Tepper's attorney, James Sawyer of Garden City, who filed the suit seeking $500,000 in damages.
"I would say that it was quite a lot of overkill," Sawyer said.