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Nearly one year later, naked biking case in Vancouver remains unresolved

Posted by on May 28th, 2010 at 9:12 am

Aloha Todd and Low Bar Tour - Pedalpalooza-27

Matthew Vilhauer (nude) was arrested on
June 19th 2009, a few hours after this photo
was taken.
(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.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Marcus Griffith
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Marcus Griffith

Nude Cycling:
1) Is not prohibited by Washington law
2) Does not by itself meet the standard for indecent exposure in Washington
3) Is protected speech
4) Does not appear to offend the Vancouver community.

Seattle, Olymbia and Bellingham are three cities in Washington that host their own World Naked Bike Rides. In addition, Vancouver has its fair share of participants in Portland’s ride as well as mini-rides in Vancouver.

Pressing charges against someone for merely being nude on a bike is absurd. Law enforcement resources are better used addressing true criminals, not community advocates exercising a constitution right to protest.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Was he using a light?

Was he operating a vehicle on the roads while over the legal limit?

matthew vilhauer
Guest
matthew vilhauer

marcus-the case is not over. you are not doing my any favors by stirring the pot. wtf? say what you want when it’s over and resolved, i don’t consider your actions to help my case.

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

Matthew: Didn’t realize my freedom of speech required your approval. With Naked-June coming upon, numerous Vancouver residents need the matter of public nudity resolved, least more people face poorly supported charges.

Tongue in cheek, I will add, if you don’t want people talking about you being nude in public, than don’t be nude in public.

matthew vilhauer
Guest
matthew vilhauer

thank you marcus. as usual and always you’ve demonstrated your grasp on social nuances… a tenuous grasp at best.

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

Commenter #4,

Your comments seem cold and uncaring. People should have more respect for each other.

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

Oh boy.

A bikeportland soap opera!

Velophile in Exile
Guest
Velophile in Exile

And to think that people were discussing how giving the finger to someone who just tried to intimidate or kill you was bad for peoples’ view of “the bicyclists.”

I personally don’t give a damn about whether you wear clothes, and I think prosecuting this just shows these people have serious psychological issues around sexuality, probably because of their backwards religion.

But, if you’re going to trot out the stupid argument about how one act of free expression (the finger) gives “the bicyclists a bad name,” then you’d better make that same argument here about this dumbass, because you damn well know this is going to piss off the idiot Christians.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Last night, on the way back to Beaverton, I was dressed in a single layer of cotton clothes when it started to rain. Somehow my clothes remained dry, but I didn’t… Naked cycling keeps people warm 😉

Funny thing is, I went right past some of Beaverton’s finest, without so much as a second look. Thank Goodness I came to a complete stop at the intersection where we met!

Oh, and my 1st Amendment statement?
If British Petrolatum is Screwing the United States… shouldn’t they at least give us a kiss first?

Juanita
Guest
Juanita

How does the case affect the Pedalplooza rides in Vancouver?

Why is he upset that people are talking about him being naked? Did he think no one would notice?

With how badly we are getting screwed by BP, we better get a phone call in the morning and diamonds for our birthday.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

Marcus, obviously the cops know all about the 4 points you listed but I think this all hinges on those girls that were in proximity and that’s why it’s indecent exposure…

I’m too lazy to look up the laws on it, but it seems like this is eventually going to lead to a Not Guilty… at least we can all hope so for the greater good…

matthew, why are you mad at Marcus for posting a comment but not at Jonathan for posting an entire news article on the front page of a popular cycling site? don’t start acting like a guilty person who has something to hide… you were naked! you have nothing to hide from! relax and this will work itself out eventually…

I can only hope that in my lifetime these stupid nudity laws will go away…

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

#10 I would think it is pretty obvious that he is hoping that the DA will drop it at this point, since if it is refiled he will have to do things like paying a lawyer to defend him again. Lots of media “exposure” might antagonize the DA, as might large naked protests, so he would probably prefer that at a minimum people who want to make a big deal out of this leave his name out of it and don’t make it about him. That doesn’t seem like too much for someone who was out minding his own business clothes or no clothes to ask… Perhaps Marcus can get himself arrested and use that as a test case instead.

Schrauf
Guest
Schrauf

#2, Washington is one of the few states you can legally ride a bicycle while drunk. So that would be a non issue.

Maybe that’s why WA is rated above OR for bicycle friendliness… =)

Did I miss it? Again?
Guest
Did I miss it? Again?

OK – not sure why this is being mentioned in relation to this blog entry but c’mon… BP screwing America?!

I hope you all are kidding. We are screwing ourselves.
It is Americans who are buying the big gas guzzling autos and they don’t run on happy thoughts.
It is Americans that elect the officials but don’t hold them accountable.
It is Americans that have no interest in policy or politics.
It is Americans that opened the Gulf up to drilling and were (up until 6 weeks ago) supporting more off shore dilling.
The British were not chanting “Drill, Baby Drill”, it was the U.S.

This particular accident could have easily been owned by Chevron or Exxon and the outcome would be the same. Corrupt system with no oversight or accountability = disasterous results, whether it’s financial industry, petroleum industry, defense industry, you name it.

Everyone wants to place the blame, Obama should do more, BP is to blame, the valve manufacturer, the platform owner.

The truth that no one wants to own up to is that we are all to blame.

JAT in Seattle
Guest
JAT in Seattle
jim
Guest
jim

I believe public drunkeness is still an offense even if your not riding a bike.

Aaronf
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Aaronf

“He said shedding clothes is one way cyclists express the vulnerability they feel on the road, where they’re dwarfed by automobiles.”

Haha

So pious!

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

Marcus, Please respect Matthew’s wishes and keep your nose out of it.

We have already had incidences of cyclists butting in in the wrong fashion, and helping to ruin it for the rest of us, ie: The VBC and the helmet issue.

Let’s not make the same mistake again….

Bacon Eater
Guest
Bacon Eater

If the DA can get a jury to stick Matthew with the public indecency charge it would set a precedent in Vancouver that could be hard to overcome.

Marcus was right to start a dialog with city officials. There is no love loss between Marcus and Matthew (messy break up, I guess) and that is likely why Vancouver’s bike advocates stayed out of it for so long, but Matthew’s case creates an opportunity for Vantucky conservatives to undo years of progress. Matthew is a decent artist, but lives in his mother’s basement and was way too drunk that night he was arrested. He is no Rosa Parks by any measure, but for better or worse, Vancouver’s cyclists are going to have to get involved before everyone loses the ability to bike naked.

One idiot can hurt the entire movement.

JE
Guest
JE

“Riders would do well to consider that a city trying to be cycling-friendly should have cyclists trying to be city-friendly.”

From Critical Mass: A Critical Issue in Cycling Relations by Jim Gourley
Bicycle Times issue 004

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

@15 From what I have heard that is probably overridden by this:

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.61.790

Cops are supposed to offer you a ride if they think you are too drunk to be on your bike, since that is extra work it pretty much means they leave people alone.

q'Tzal
Guest
q'Tzal

K’Tesh #9:
Since we are paying to get screwed that makes BP the prostitute of this equation. You should know not to kiss them on the mouth.

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

Nude male cyclist?

No big thing

🙂

Red Five
Guest
Red Five

wonderful. I hope he put a towel or something down on that bar stool. Anything for some attention.

Perry
Guest
Perry

Not in my bar…

brian
Guest
brian

Not sure which is more ridiculous:
1) riding your bike naked in a city.
2) Being offended by somebody riding their bike naked.
3) Prosecuting somebody for riding their bike naked.

DressedMonkey
Guest
DressedMonkey

So el nudist Matthew consents to an interview with the Columbian Newspaper and KATU news yesterday AND than turns around and tells everyone today they are butting into his business when they start talking about his interviews? WTF, sounds like he is “stirring the pot” and blaming everyone else for his stupidty.

There needs to be some type of rally or meeting to support naked bike riding in Vancouver. I don’t care who got arrested, but the if Vancouver loses the ability to bike naked, it can easily creep to other cities in Washington.

Vancouver cops have been pretty cool lately with cyclists. I am sure his intoxication had a lot to do with the decesion to arrest him.

Cop shows up at the scence with a bunch of screaming underage girls and a naked middle drunk man a few feet away. What did he expect to happen? The officer asking for his autograph?

ayresjk
Guest
ayresjk

got it….new protest activity….Nude bike bar hop!

Nicky
Guest
Nicky

nothing says cool like PBR, a Magna and bare skin cruising Hazel Dell Ave…

In good news, we have someone teaching bike safety to kids.
http://www.columbian.com/news/2010/may/28/this-is-their-first-driving-lesson-joe-greulich-vo/

trail user
Guest
trail user

You think skin rash on your knees or elbows sucks!

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

So if Mr. Vilhauer decides to doff his clothing and mountain bike in Forest Park and he cycles past a bunch of runners who are appalled, shocked and feel harassed by his nakedness, would an obscenity charge stick?

Nicky
Guest
Nicky

Oregon vs Washington laws… As states, we are divided by the river that unites us.

twilliam
Guest
twilliam

That picture above is an award winner. For what contest, I don’t know, but it’ll win, for sure! How he wasn’t kicked out instantly…

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

Link to an April 30, 2010 news coverage of a daytime naked ride in Seattle. Notice that of the thousands of bystanders, only a few (ie 1) was offended.

It seems a much higher rate of people are offended by Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings and the infamous two-girls-one-cup video…Fluid standards are hard to nail down.

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith
Red Five
Guest
Red Five

Attention whore.

Lester
Guest
Lester

If naked guy is really hoping for little coverage of these events, I’ve got some bad news. It even made the news in Seattle – KIRO 7.

matt picio
Guest

matthew (#3) – Sorry, I agree with Marcus in this case. Freedom of speech, and he’s merely pointing out it doesn’t violate state law. In his first post he said nothing that relates to the specifcs of your case, or any other individual. Now if he starts speculating on your motives, or your behavior that night, that would be another matter entirely.

Brian E (#5) – Marcus is being factual, and he has a valid point – however you behave in public, expect people to comment on it. Nothing cold about that, just simply factual. And frankly, Marcus has a right to express his opinion, as does matthew, you, and I.

Bjorn (#12) – In which case it’s fairly likely Jonathan would run a follow-up story about matthew’s legal costs, and someone would take up a collection. One thing about Portland’s bike community, they really seem to cough up (time, money, resources) when someone is in need.

Aaronf (#17) – That’s one of the official points of the World Naked Bike Ride.

Dabby (#18) – Marcus isn’t out of line until he starts talking about case particulars. Come on, if this were a case about someone getting hit by a truck, and someone was spouting off on better licensing, truck safety equipment, and the right for that cyclist to be on the road, would you be saying “please keep your nose out of it”?

Paul Tay
Guest
Paul Tay

If convicted, would he have to register as a sex offender?

Lazer Skid
Guest
Lazer Skid

I am confused why is Matthew claimed a First Amendment right to bike naked and now he is irked that people have started to support his First Amendment claim? Sounds like he can’t make up his mind.

Matthew posted back in February:
“hey marcus… will you be at my jury trial in april? yes i was only expressing my 1st amendment rights while riding a bike… but vancouver certainly isn’t portland…”
comment 4
http://bikeportland.org/2010/02/08/7th-annual-mini-bike-winter-starts-thursday/

It does look like Matthew, the prosecutor and everyone else agrees on something: Vancouver isn’t Portland.

Can Marcus’ full email to the mayor be posted? I would like to know how he justified naked bike riding to Vancouver’s city council. Wouldn’t that be a lot like convincing Mayberry’s zoning board to allow a strip club?

Guinness at Midnight
Guest
Guinness at Midnight

crap! Vilhauer’s case could not have happened at a worst time for Vancouver. Budget cuts are threatenting to remove the city’s bike program, on-street bike parking projects are hitting stiff resistence and with the World Naked Bike Ride two weeks away, there is little time to discuss acceptable standards of undress with the police in time for naked rides.

Fallout from Vilhauer’s drunken stupidtiy is distracting from more important matters. Best thing is for the city to not re-file charges. Everyone can go home and people can rally around saving the city’s bike program. If the city re-files…. it could get ugly. Would 200 naked bodies at city hall change their mind or only cause them to dig their heels in deeper? Does Vancouver want to be the fist domino to fall in getting the World Naked Bike Ride banned from Washington State?

No one wants to defend Vilhauer’s childish bar stool antics, but he could be the poster child to ban all naked protests Clark County. Begrudgling, people are going to have to get this to work out.

Qutie
Guest
Qutie

Matthew (#3) and Dabby (#18):

Gimme a break. Matthew is okay with giving video interviews and but he doesn’t want people to talk about it? What type of mutant thinking is that.

http://vancouver.katu.com/content/jury-cant-decide-if-nude-biker-was-indecent?video=YHI&t=a

EmGee
Guest
EmGee

WTF???

Is Vancouver so rich in tax moneys that it can pay to continue to prosecute this kind of meaningless case? Win or lose, this case can only have a negative affect on the quality of life in Vancouver.

Charges should be dropped now; not a dime more in taxpayer moneys should be spent on this meaningless activity.

Additionally, there probably should be an investigation of the city’s attorney, who may have been using city resources to attempt to advance his personal political agenda. I cannot think of any other reason why this case went to trial.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

From maus’s story above:

“…”Not Portland” indeed. On this side of the river, biking naked is a common and accepted occurrence. …” maus

In Portland, biking naked is not actually ‘common’ except during the annual WNBR, and to a far less degree during the gay pride parade. What about biking naked being ‘accepted’ in Portland? During the WNBR…sure; It’s accepted that people will ride the 2 hrs or so of that event in varying degrees of nudity or nakedness.

During that event, many bystander-spectators probably derive a range of satisfaction from seeing the spectacle, demonstration, celebration, or whatever it might be called…proceed on by. And then it’s gone for another year, except for an occasional incident of nudity at the Alberta Last Friday, etc.

Biking naked in Portland might be said to be common, but the fact is, it doesn’t seem to be common at all outside of a few hours on a couple days out of the year during special events. And outside of those events, is the activity ‘accepted’, so much as it is ‘tolerated’?

Go to downtown Portland or any neighborhood in the city on almost every day of the year; it’s likely that not a single nude person will be seen out riding a bike. Some of you commenting here might want to do your own experiments to find out how common and accepted naked biking is in Portland.

Oregon is supposedly…coming up on some hot, dry days yet this year. Why get clothing all sweated up on the 7-9am, 4-6pm commute to work across the Hawthorne Bridge and into downtown? Just pack the work togs in the pannier and go naked, dress on arriving to work. Far as I know, nobody’s doing that yet. The response from the public should be interesting.

The public seems to be willing and obliged to tolerate naked biking as a legitimate form of free speech, but does it really choose to encourage the practice of naked biking when other more socially harmonious and constructive forms of free speech are readily available? I don’t think so.

Naked biking might be fine for a lark, but I’ve got a strong feeling that people in Portland or most any American city, would not agree that naked biking is common and accepted, and are not looking forward to it becoming so, at least not on a random day to day basis.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

My point is that if left alone these charges would surely be dropped.

Vancouver cyclists are generally left alone, even with the stupid helmet law.

Let’s keep it that way.
Stirring the pot(deeply) only brings the burned stuff on the bottom to the surface.

Not even lemon juice would save the dinner.

Janet
Guest
Janet

Dabby (#45): “My point is that if left alone these charges would surely be dropped.”

Matt was arrested last June and it was “left alone” until after Matt gave media interviews and after the DA’s office stated charges might be re-filed.

Was it “stirring the pot” or just pertinent media coverage when Bike Portland covered Rev. Phil’s indecent exposure arrest in 2006?
http://bikeportland.org/2006/12/11/naked-ride-incident-goes-to-court-wednesday/

No one really cares about Matt’s case insomuch as people care about preserving the right to participate in naked bike rides. There was talk in March of setting up a Vancouver naked bike ride to cap off Pedalplooza. The idea got tanked because of the on-going case. If luck holds, maybe one can held next year.

Speaking of which, a meeting is being held today to discuss potential impacts on a protest rally. It looks like the pre-meeting idea is collaboration is better than confrontation.

12 Days to Pedalplooza 🙂

Tony Columbo
Guest
Tony Columbo

He should have been given at least a DUII for riding a bicycle drunk on his butt and the book thrown at him including all the normal fines and fees. Suspension of his license.

Waltizing Matilda
Guest
Waltizing Matilda

Naked bike riding? Really? Why would you want to do that? I have enough problems with my saddle going up places I would rather it not go. Not to mention around here it would probably cause a massive car pile up for people being shocked at the sight of someone riding a bike nekkid. Then, there’s all the people (me included) who would fall off their bikes from the shock of it.

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

1) The group planning a naked protest ride have concluded that such a ride would impede other bike advocacy projects to an unsatisfactory degree. Even my vigorous embrace of First Amendment ideology has to understand the pragmatic reality of contemporary politics.

2) Regarding Bike DUI–one does not need a license to operate a bicycle, so what good would taking away someone’s driving license do? Additionally, was his BAC even taken? If not, there can be no presumption that his BAC was over the legal limit. He was in compliance with traffics and helmet laws.

3) The very question if a bicyclist could be charged with a DUI under current Washington laws was put to the Court of Appeals in “City of Montesano v. Wells”. The Courts ruled that the state law makers never intended bicyclists to subjected to DUI laws and stated:

“We agree that while riding a bicycle while intoxicated may pose a danger, it is not of the same magnitude as the hazard posed by the intoxicated driver of a motor vehicle”

Full Decision is worth reading:
http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=13241013133072893538&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

4) The wide range of opinions expressed on Bike Portland is a tribute to the diversity of cyclists and the importance of public debate protected under the First Amendment.

jim
Guest
jim

Would they let him spend the 90 days in jail naked?