No, Really: Getting a Free Soda Refill Can Be a Federal Offense

Fri, 18 Apr 2014 09:19:35 PDT

Is Harry Potter nemesis and rule-loving Hogwarts headmistress Dolores Umbridge’s doppelgänger running things at the VA hospital in Charleston, S.C.? This week a thirsty construction worker found out the hard way that if the facility’s cafeteria says refills cost 89 cents, it means business.

On Wednesday construction worker Christopher Lewis went to refill his cup at the soda machine in the cafeteria at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. Next thing he knew, Federal Police Force officers were slapping him with a $525 federal citation for shoplifting.

"As I was filling my cup up, I turned to walk off, and a fella grabbed me by the arm and asked me was I going to pay for that, and I told him I wasn't aware that I had to pay for that,” Lewis told WIS TV.

In a statement, the hospital said Lewis told “VA police he had not paid for refills of beverages on multiple occasions, even though signs are posted in the cafeteria informing patrons refills are not free. Shoplifting is a crime.”

After police approached him, Lewis tried to pay the cost of the refill, but his money was refused. Instead, he was given the shoplifting ticket. A hospital administrator (Dolores, is that you?) even called what Lewis did theft of government property.

“Every time I look at the ticket, it's unbelievable to me,” Lewis said. “I can't fathom the fact that I made a $0.89 mistake that cost me $525.”

After a local backlash, on Thursday afternoon the hospital’s officials backed down and let Lewis off with a warning. But this small-change mistake has still cost the man his job. Lewis is no longer allowed on the hospital’s premises.

There’s no doubt we all need to drink way less soda. In a perfect world, Lewis would voluntarily just say no to sugar-laden refills. And yes, following rules is important too. But given the serious health challenges our veterans face and how difficult it is for them to get care once they’ve returned home, you’d think VA hospitals would adjust their priorities. Ticketing a guy who made an innocent mistake isn’t where we need to focus federal resources.

Related stories on TakePart:

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Original article from TakePart