Police ‘zero tolerance’ policy draws criticism after beer party arrests
BOSTON (AP) _ Christopher George says he was trying to do the right thing when he went to fetch his sister from a teen-age keg party.
Police found her first, then arrested her, her brother and everyone else at the party _ sober or not. The whole group was taken to the police station and booked as part of a ``zero tolerance″ measure to arrest underage drinkers and those who attend their parties.
George, 20, and his 18-year-old sister, Renee, were among nearly 80 young people arrested at two parties during the weekend. The raids became the talk of rock radio stations throughout Boston, with many listeners calling for changes in the law that implies guilt by association.
``Basically I was arrested because I was in a house where there was alcohol,″ George said.
Police in Hanover, where George was arrested, say state law allows them to do just that.
When officers arrived at the large house Friday, they found a keg, several 30-packs of beer and cups of red Jell-O laced with vodka, Lt. Walter Sweeney said. The crowd included honors students and athletes _ Renee George was her senior class president. No parents were in sight.
``We were trying to prevent a tragedy,″ Sweeney said.
Katherine Prescott, president of the Irving, Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said new figures show that alcohol-related traffic deaths among people age 15-20 are on the rise for the first time in six years. The nation recorded 2,315 deaths in 1996 compared to 2,206 the previous year.
Plymouth District Attorney Michael Sullivan said the alcohol was all police needed to see to arrest everyone at the party in Hanover and another in Hull the same night.
He said the state’s minor-in-possession law takes into account the chance that not everyone will be caught with alcohol in hand. Otherwise, he said, minors could avoid arrest by simply putting their beers down and denying they had them.
But George and friend Christian Frattasio, who drove with him to the party, said authorities are missing the point. They said they were only doing the responsible thing taught by Students Against Drunk Driving.
``The story from SADD and MADD is to take the keys away from the friend so they get home safe,″ George said. ``All we did was go to pick her up so she wouldn’t have to drive home with someone who was drinking.″
But that didn’t win sympathy from Massachusetts MADD spokesman Dick Shire.
``You can’t determine who is in the right or who is in the wrong,″ he said. ``If you were caught in a room where illegal gambling is going on, you will be arrested with everyone else.″
Still, Sullivan said, the police raid should not deter young people from giving a ride to friends in need, indicating authorities might be sympathetic in George’s situation.
``If in fact that happened in the Hanover situation, I’m sure the police are most interested in learning that,″ he said. ``The last thing we want to see is someone unduly punished for what many would characterize as their good judgment in helping a younger sibling.″