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Council takes first step to close public nudity loophole
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, all but two members voted to approve a ban on public nudity.
Council members Brad Ellis and Matt Kelly voted against the ordinance, which would close a gap that was recently discovered in the city code.
Right now, the city code bars indecent exposure, which is public nudity with the intent to commit an obscene act. But it doesn’t cover just plain nudity in public.
This gap in the code was recently exposed when city police cited a man for strolling downtown sans pants. When his case got to court, it was thrown out because prosecutors could not demonstrate that he had performed or intended to perform an obscene act.
The pants-less man wasn’t approaching people in a sexual manner—he was just walking around town without pants or underwear.
The proposed ordinance would essentially zip up that loophole by prohibiting nudity in all places that are open to the general public, regardless of intent.
Council members asked questions about how the new ordinance would deal with situations such as children playing in the sprinklers, locker rooms in gyms, and accidental exposure.
City Attorney Kathleen Dooley assured council members that situations such as these were taken into account and that the ordinance was modeled after other city and county ordinances which have been reviewed by the Virginia Court of Appeals.
“We didn’t invent our prohibition,” she said.
Both Kelly and Ellis said they thought it was not necessary to revise city code after one incident and that the city may be overreacting.
Commonwealth’s Attorney LaBravia Jenkins weighed in to address the council’s concerns on why the change was necessary.
“I think the character of the city demands that we be sure that if you are walking down the street with your 6-year-old that the child is not exposed to public nudity,” she said.
Council member Kerry Devine pointed out that they would just be “tightening up something that has been an oversight.”
The council’s next meeting is Jan. 22, when it may come up for a vote on second reading.