CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – A woman who was arrested after baring her breasts as a form of protest during the Unite the Right white nationalist rally last summer sued the arresting officer on Thursday, claiming he violated a host of her constitutional rights.
Morgan Hopkins, a Virginia resident, claims in a four-page federal complaint that on August 12, she was part of a peaceful protest against the differing treatment society accords men’s and women’s bodies, and “specifically the way law and society treat men’s and women’s breasts.”
Hopkins says she and other protesters, both male and female, gathered in downtown Charlottesville for their protest and as a part of that action, she eventually took off her shirt and began playing guitar.
The defendants, Charlottesville police sergeant Russell Handy and an unnamed officer, arrested Hopkins on a charge of indecent exposure, an alleged violation of Virginia code 18.2-387.
But upon closer review of the code, Hopkins claims, her arrest wasn’t lawful.
According to the statute, “every person who intentionally makes an obscene display or exposure of his person or the private parts thereof …s hall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
How the code defines obscene is key, the plaintiff’s Charlottesville-based attorney, Jeffrey Fogel, argues.
The code states that the word ‘obscene’ means “that which, considered as a whole, has as its dominant theme or purpose and appeal to the prurient interest in sex that is a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, excretory function or products thereof or sadomasochistic abuse … and which, taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
Nudity, in the state of Virginia, Fogel writes, does not violate that statute.
“Although there were men with bare chests in the same location as [Hopkins], none were arrested,” the complaint says.
The charges were eventually dismissed, but Hopkins claims her arrest nevertheless violated her constitutional rights.
A lack of probable cause to arrest her violated her Fourth Amendment rights, she claims. Since the statute makes “no distinction between men and women,” Hopkins’ Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection was also violated. And finally the arrest itself: by arresting her for “engaging in expressive activity,” Hopkins says her First Amendment right to free speech and assembly was also violated.
When reached for comment Friday, Fogel recalled a case he had previously for a woman who appeared naked at a protest.
“The judge acquitted her on the grounds that mere nudity does not violate the indecent exposure statute,” Fogel said.
At a press conference on Thursday, Hopkins insisted the arrest was unwarranted.
"I feel like it's demeaning that my body was more offensive than what was taking place on that day," she said. "And I also feel that it was an insult. Remember this was August 12, the day of the "alt-right" rally here.”
Hopkins seeks unspecified compensatory damages and attorney's fees.
The Charlottesville Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When reached for comment Friday, City of Charlottesville spokesman Brian Wheeler declined comment.
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