In a complaint filed yesterday, performance artist Holly Van Voast accuses the NYPD of repeatedly arresting her for being topless in public — conduct the New York Court of Appeals ruled in 1992 is perfectly lawful:
1. More than two decades ago, in 1992, the New York State Court of Appeals held that it is not illegal for women in New York State to expose their breasts in public. People v. Santorelli, 80 N.Y.2d 875 (1992) (finding that New York Penal Law § 245.01 did not apply to women who exposed their breasts in a public park). 2. Plaintiff Holly Van Voast is an artist and a long-time resident of New York City. Often appearing in the role and dress of Harvey Van Toast, the “topless paparazzo,” and wearing a painted-on moustache and blond Marilyn Monroe-esque hairdo, plaintiff appears around New York City, exercising her right to be topless anywhere a man is permitted to be topless. 3. Notwithstanding the clear command of Santorelli, the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) has stopped, detained, harassed, arrested, summonsed, charged and/or prosecuted plaintiff on dozens of occasions – solely for exercising her right to be to be topless in public in New York City. The NYPD has repeatedly charged and arrested Ms. Van Voast for appearing topless in public although she has committed no crime. 4. On multiple occasions when plaintiff was peacefully going about her business in New York City, the NYPD has wrongfully detained and charged Ms. Van Voast, either with “Indecent Exposure” pursuant to New York Penal Law § 245.01, or with a host of other sham charges. The NYPD has charged Ms. Van Voast on these occasions not because she was doing anything illegal, but for the impermissible and unconstitutional purpose of penalizing and deterring her from being topless in public.
The New York times has more on the suit here. The case is before Judge Rakoff.