Indecent Exposure Arrest Leads to Controversy in Virginia

Woman was replicating an image on the state flag
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2019 1:00 PM CST
Bared Breast in Virginia Protest Leads to Controversy
Two Equal Rights Amendment supporters, Michelle Sutherland, standing, and Natalie White, recreate an image on stage flag of Virginia outside the state Capitol in Richmond. Sutherland was later charged with indecent exposure.   (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Two women staging a protest in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia ended up inadvertently drawing a large amount of attention to their cause. The women were mimicking an image on the state seal, and one of them was dressed as the Roman goddess Virtus, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In keeping with Virtus, 45-year-old activist Michelle Sutherland left one of her breasts exposed during the protest on Monday outside the state Capitol. Police arrested her for indecent exposure, and that's when the real controversy began. Judge Lawrence B. Cann III made the unusual decision to order Sutherland held without bond until her March 21 court appearance—meaning she'd have to spend a month in jail over the costume.

The move drew immediate outrage from critics including the ACLU, with Sutherland's supporters calling her a political prisoner. On Thursday, Cann changed his decision and ordered Sutherland released, reports the Washington Post. In court, Cann explained that he had no idea the indecent exposure arrest stemmed from a political protest, because it wasn't mentioned in the arrest warrant. "I had no idea of the backstory," Sutherland's attorney quotes the judge as saying in court. "I had no idea of the context." Meanwhile, a resolution to have Virginia ratify the ERA amendment passed the Senate but died in a House subcommittee. The original image the women were recreating during their protest can be seen here. (More Equal Rights Amendment stories.)

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