Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 28th, 2010 at 9:12 am
June 19th 2009, a few hours after this photo
(Photo: Not sure but it was my camera)
It's been nearly a year since Matthew Vilhauer was arrested for indecent exposure for riding his bike naked in downtown Vancouver (Washington). He hoped yesterday's jury trial would be the end of a roller-coaster legal journey, but after a 5 to 1 vote of not guilty, the case remains unresolved.
On June 19th 2009, Vilhauer and several friends from Portland (including myself) and Vancouver met for a ride (which I recapped here) to tour some of that city's night spots. The occasion was to toast our friend Todd Boulanger, who was leaving his job as a transportation planner with the City of Vancouver. In a story about the trial published yesterday, The Columbian newspaper referred to the ride as "an exuberant, alcohol-fueled late-night cycling celebration."
Vilhauer felt the need to remove his clothes about half-way through the evening (he was the only one to do so, but no one really seemed to mind -- see photo above). At around midnight, while riding on Main Street, Vilhauer -- wearing nothing but his helmet -- was approached by Vancouver police, then handcuffed and arrested.
Vilhauer faces a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
After nearly a year of postponed court dates and other legal wranglings, the case finally went to trial yesterday. Here's how the arguments played out, according to The Columbian:
"George argued to jurors that, “This is not Portland,” while defense attorney Vitasovic argued that nakedness by itself isn’t a crime, and that Vilhauer didn’t have any intent to offend anyone.
“He got drunk, he got naked, he got on his bike,” Vitasovic said.
"Not Portland" indeed. On this side of the river, biking naked is a common and accepted occurrence. Our World Naked Bike Ride had 5,000 people last year and organizers worked hand-in-hand with the Police Bureau to make it happen (the officer who organizers worked closely with, Mike Reese, is now Chief of Police). In November 2008, a Multnomah County judge dismissed charges against a man arrested for biking naked, saying it was a form of free speech and that it's a "well-established tradition" in Portland.
"I am requesting City Council to endorse the mere act of nude bike riding as not being an obscene and indecent act by itself."
-- Marcus Griffith, citizen activist, in an email to Mayor and City Council.
Since being naked in public is not a crime, Vilhauer's case hinges on whether or not his nakedness would have to be seen as obscene and be directed at passersby. The police say Vilhauer was exposing himself to a group of teenage girls, but in his defense, Vilhauer maintains they just happened to be waiting in line at a club nearby when he was arrested.
With the deadlocked jury ruling yesterday, the prosecutor could seek another trial.
With the naked bike riding month of June fast approaching, one Vancouver resident wants the Mayor and City Council to take a proactive stance on naked biking so this type of long, drawn-out legal situation doesn't have to happen again.
Marcus Griffith is shocked that the City hasn't dismissed the charges and sent an email to the Mayor and members of Council last night calling on them to take up the matter at an upcoming meeting. From his email:
"I am requesting City Council to endorse the mere act of nude bike riding as not being an obscene and indecent act by itself. I am further requesting charges not to be refiled against Vilhauer nor any cyclists for engaging in future nude cycling in Vancouver."
Griffith says if the City doesn't address this issue to his satisfaction, he's planning to mobilize "a few hundreds nude cyclists" at the next City Hall meeting, which he says would "help illustrate the value of nudity as a First Amendment form of protest."
Stay tuned to learn how this all turns out.