SAN DIEGO (CN) — A civil jury Tuesday cleared San Diego police of discriminating against a scantily clad man by arresting him at a Gay Pride event for violating the city’s nudity laws.
It took the eight-member federal jury less than two hours to decide that five San Diego police officers did not violate Will Walters’ Fourteenth Amendment rights when they pulled him from a beer garden and arrested him.
“The jury confirmed what we’ve always known, which is that San Diego does not discriminate in its enforcement of nudity laws,” city attorney spokesman Gerry Braun said in an email. “Our office would not tolerate discrimination against the LGBT community or any other group.”
Walters sued the city in 2012, claiming police officers discriminated against him when they arrested him. Walters initially was cited for violating the policy. Police arrested him and took him to jail because he would not sign the citation confirming he would appear in court.
Walters was wearing a leather “micro kilt,” essentially, a loincloth over a thong, with 12-inch leather flaps covering his buttocks, when he was arrested.
He claimed he’d had no problems when he wore the $1,000 custom outfit at the 2010 Pride parade, and was arrested in 2011 because the new police lieutenant in charge of special events decided to enforce a stricter policy.
Christopher Morris, Walters’ attorney, said in an email that he and his client are “extremely disappointed in the verdict.”
“We realize that progress in the area of civil rights is incremental. Victories are often preceded by defeats. While we may have lost this battle, I can’t imagine the city will ever engage in this type of unequal enforcement of the nudity statute again in the future,” Morris wrote.
Walters’ road to trial was long. U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo granted the city summary judgment in 2014, but Walters appealed to the Ninth Circuit in March this year, and a panel reversed and remanded in April.
During his closing arguments Tuesday, Morris told jurors that what Walters wore that day was no different than what many women wear at San Diego beaches, yet they don’t get cited and carted off to jail.
He showed jurors pictures of women in skimpy bathing suits – some in thong bikinis – and compared the amount of coverage those women’s bathing suits provided to how much Walters’ kilt covered his buttocks.
“Is this the same rule throughout the city?” Morris asked. “You’d have to suspend your experience and reality as a San Diegan to believe this was a violation of the law.”
He told jurors the Pride organizers had previously enforced a “1-inch strip” rule, requiring that a person’s anus be covered by at least a 1-inch thick piece of fabric, something former Pride parade manager Ben Horgoban testified to last week.
“There was a lot of talk about why certain things were applicable and why to our group,” Horgoban said.
Morris said the case has had a significant impact on Walters, and acknowledged that his client “was a hot mess when he was on the stand.”
But city attorney Stacy Jo Plotkin-Wolff said Walters wanted special treatment, not equal treatment. She said the photos shown by Walters’ attorneys over the course of the weeklong trial show him in a “static position,” and suggested that Walters’ entire buttocks were exposed when he walked and the wind blew up the flaps.
Plotkin-Wolff said all five officers testified they could see nearly Walters’ entire buttocks, and that at one point he bent over to pick something up, exposing even more.
“This was not a close call. His entire butt was showing. My kids would call it a full moon,” Plotkin-Wolff said.
She said the city’s nudity laws have been consistent since the 1970’s and only slight vocabulary changes to the policy have been made over the years.
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