Christopher Lewis was ticketed by the Federal Police Force at the downtown Charleston, S.C., hospital because he didn't pay the 89-cent fee to refill his soda.
"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 WISTV.
He offered to pay the 89 cents on the spot, but the man, who identified himself as the chief of police, wouldn't let him. Instead, he was taken from the cafeteria to a back room, given a ticket for $525, and told not to return to the property.
That leaves Lewis out of a job.
"I'm done there, at the VA hospital. I'm not allowed to go on the premises anymore. I asked him can I still work on the job site and just bring my lunch and not got to the cafeteria and he said he wanted me off the premises," he said.
The hospital's side of the story is that Lewis stole government property, ignored signs about the price of drink refills that were posted around the cafeteria, and became "aggressive" during the confrontation with police.
In a statement, the hospital wrote, "Shoplifting is a crime. The dollar amount of the ticket is not determined by VA as it is a Federal citation. The citation may be paid or the recipient may choose to appear in Federal court to contest it."
Lewis does plan to contest it.
"I want everybody to know that I made a simple mistake, that I'm not a thief, that I'm not dishonest. I'm trying to do the right thing," he said.