Judge reverses bail denial for woman who exposed self in reenactment of Virginia seal

Two Equal Rights Amendment supporters, Michelle Sutherland, standing, and Natalie White, demonstrate to recreate what looks to be a similar image on the flag of Virginia, outside the state Capitol in Richmond, Va., Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Police said 45-year-old Sutherland was later charged with indecent exposure in a protest related to the ERA. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
By  | 

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) — UPDATE (Feb. 21):

A New York woman who mimicked Virginia's state seal by exposing her breast outside the Capitol during a protest in support of the Equal Rights Amendment is being released from jail after a judge first ordered her to stay without bail.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports a magistrate initially set bail for 45-year-old Michelle Sutherland at $700, but the Richmond General District Court's chief judge, Lawrence B. Cann III, on Tuesday ordered her held until her March 21 court date.

On Thursday, however, Richmond General District Court Chief Judge Lawrence B. Cann III agreed to release Sutherland on a personal recognizance bond. She would have to pay $1,500 if she doesn't show up for her March 21 court date.

Sutherland was arrested on a charge of indecent exposure Monday. Advocates say holding someone without bond for a nonviolent misdemeanor is unusual.

Both Sutherland's defense attorney and Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring are asking the judge to release her from jail. Herring says a judge could sign an order for her release. The judge declined an interview with the newspaper.

She was depicting Virtus, who, on the Virginia state seal, is usually shown with a breast exposed as she stands triumphantly over Tyranny.

“We were here reenacting the state flag and the state seal of Virginia, which says that we shall not give into tyrants, and Speaker [Kirk] Cox and [House Majority Leader Todd] Gilbert are both tyrants who are stopping the Equal Rights Amendment from getting to the floor for a vote,” Natalie White, who portrayed Tyranny in the tableau, told a group of reporters after Sutherland was arrested.

The reenactment of the seal came amid wide-scale protests in Richmond, many calling for the resignation of Governor Ralph Northam over a photo of someone in blackface and someone in a KKK robe on his 1984 medical school yearbook. Two other people were arrested for dying a capitol fountain red.

Sutherland's case is similar to that of Morgan Hopkins, who was arrested during the deadly 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville for exposing her breasts. That charge was later dismissed in Charlottesville General District Court, she sued the city's police department, and the lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount with officers acknowledging they were in the wrong.

Legal analyst Scott Goodman says it’s unlikely Sutherland's charges will stick.

"That was a legitimate act of protest to draw attention to the issue of women's rights and the Equal Rights Amendment without any sexual innuendo or component whatsoever,” Goodman said.

He says a charge of indecent exposure requires the act to have some sexualized intent or effect on viewers, something that's not evident in online video of Sutherland's actions.

"I can't see any judge in the Commonwealth finding these women guilty of this charge," Goodman said.

___
The Associated Press, WWBT, and WCAV each contributed to this report.

__________

A pro-Equal Rights Amendment protester was initially held without bond after she was arrested Monday on Capitol Square for exposing one of her breasts during a live action portrayal of the state seal, Virginia Mercury reports.

On Wednesday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Herring said Michelle Sutherland will be released in the afternoon and that a request for no bond was a mistake.

The Florida woman is charged with a single misdemeanor count of indecent exposure.

Sutherland was depicting Virtus, who, on the Virginia state seal, is usually shown with a breast exposed as she stands triumphantly over Tyranny, according to Virginia Mercury.

“We were here reenacting the state flag and the state seal of Virginia, which says that we shall not give into tyrants, and Speaker [Kirk] Cox and [House Majority Leader Todd] Gilbert are both tyrants who are stopping the Equal Rights Amendment from getting to the floor for a vote,” Natalie White, who portrayed Tyranny in the tableau, told a group of reporters after Sutherland was arrested.

The reenactment of the seal came amid wide-scale protests in Richmond, many calling for the resignation of Governor Ralph Northam over a photo of someone in blackface and someone in a KKK robe on his 1984 medical school yearbook. Two other people were arrested for dying a capitol fountain red.

Sutherland’s arrest came just days after two ERA protesters were arrested for a “die-in” at the Capitol.

The women said there were holding a “Valentine’s Day die-in” because the Republican-controlled House of Delegates has killed legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Sutherland's case is also similar to that of Morgan Hopkins, who was arrested during the deadly 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville for exposing her breasts. That charge was later dismissed in Charlottesville General District Court, she sued the city's police department, and the lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount with officers acknowledging they were in the wrong.

Virginia's flag, with the state seal, can be found below.




Capitol Police arrested Michelle Renay Sutherland, 45, of Florida, and charged her with a single count of indecent exposure Monday during a protest in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)