If you stripped down to your birthday suit in the middle of the city, you'd expect to be arrested, right? You might even expect to be put on a psychiatric hold. Zoe West was arrested for just that, stripping naked in the middle of Times Square, reports the Courthouse News Service. Now, she's suing over the false arrest, and, she might actually have a valid claim.
The same laws that prohibit nudity yet allow women to walk around topless in New York City, also contain exceptions. After all, the legislature would hate to impinge upon artistic expression, especially when it involves nudity.
The language of the statute explicitly exempts, “any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment” from the nudity ban. Zoe West wasn’t just doing a striptease. Nor was she on bath salts. She was a living canvass for a well-known and highly-regarded body painter.
Because his artwork is all pretty much painted naked women in public, Andy Golub, had previously interacted with the NYPD. After a previous arrest, his lawyer had worked out a deal with the NYPD, based on the statutory language, that future exhibitions would not be interrupted with handcuffs.
The officers that arrested West weren't so informed. The moment her thong hit the pavement, they moved in for the arrest. She was transported to the station, where she was left standing in the middle of the station, in the buff, and with an incomplete paint job on her nether regions.
After a few minutes of gawking by those in the precinct, she was transported to the juvenile holding area, where she was given back her clothing and patted down by a female officer. Two hours later, she was released, because, you know, she didn't actually commit any crime.
Lo and behold, less than a year later, she has filed suit over the arrest. When someone acts under color of law and arrests someone without probable cause or reasonable basis for that arrest, they have violated the arrestee's liberty of movement and can be sued for damages.
It seems pretty clear, based on the alleged facts and the extensive news coverage, as well as the language of the law, that West was arrested for something that was not a crime. The real legal battle, however, will be for damages.
She was only locked up for a couple of hours. Her actual pecuniary loss, if any, was miniscule. She didn't lose a job, nor was her reputation and earning capacity permanently impaired.
West may be able to get punitive damages, but she'll have to prove either ill will on the part of the NYPD or malice. The latter means that they either knew what she was doing wasn't a crime, or they should have known it.
The old cliché applying to us civilians is that 'ignorance of the law is no excuse.' Perhaps that should be a two-way street.
- Speak to a New York Personal Injury Lawyer (FindLaw)
- Nude Artist's Model Zoe West Files Suit Against New York City For Violating Civil Rights (Huffington Post)
- When Can I Sue Police for False Arrest? (FindLaw's Injured Blog)
- Police Misconduct Case: Did the Lawyers Beat the Cops? (FindLaw's New York Personal Injury Law Blog)