Jury deadlocks in nude cycling case
Man had been accused of indecent exposure for late-night antics
Thursday, May 27, 2010
A deadlocked jury on Thursday evening voted five to one to find a Vancouver man not guilty of indecent exposure for riding a bicycle naked with others during an exuberant, alcohol-fueled late-night cycling celebration in downtown Vancouver.
The defendant, Matthew J. Vilhauer, 43, said after the trial that he was pleased with the verdict, up to a point, because an assistant city attorney can decide to set a new trial.
“We were one vote away from it being resolved,” he said. “It is what it is. They should have resolved it.”
At the end of the proceedings, about 7:45 p.m., District Court Judge Vernon Schreiber, Assistant City Attorney Todd George and Vilhauer’s attorney, Luka Vitasovic, agreed on a new trial date of July 21.
But George said later that he hadn’t decided whether to refile the case.
The five-woman, one-man jury began deliberations at 3:30 p.m. in the one-day trial.
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.
Indecent exposure, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
For Vilhauer, the evening of June 18, 2009, started (clothed) with an art show at Angst Gallery in downtown Vancouver. There, he met with approximately two dozen cyclists who were out to celebrate Todd Boulanger, a cycling advocate who’d recently left his position as a senior transportation planner for the city of Vancouver.
The group cycled to Esther Short Park before starting out on the “Todd’s Low-Brow Bars of Vancouver Ride.” Plans were made. Some clothes were shed.
Vitasovic called two Portland cyclists who were at the party to testify.
Joe Adamski, a retired warehouseman and father of five, said he helped organize Bike Summer in 2002, a Portland event which has spun off into Pedalpalooza, an annual celebration of all things cycling.
The June 18 event in Vancouver was listed as a Pedalpalooza event.
Adamski said “it’s not been uncommon for a little bit of nakedness to break loose” at cycling events.
He said shedding clothes is one way cyclists express the vulnerability they feel on the road, where they’re dwarfed by automobiles.
“We do not have a 2,000-pound cage around us,” Adamski said.
Adamski said June 18 “was a great night. I spent a lot of money in Vancouver that night.”
Adriane Ackerman, a self-employed small business consultant, said Vilhauer wasn’t the only cyclist who took off his clothes in Vancouver. She said she knows for certain she was topless, but couldn’t recall whether she wore pants.
“We do naked bike riding a lot in Portland in the summer, so it’s hard to remember,” Ackerman said.
The prosecutor called as witnesses a paramedic who called 911 to report Vilhauer, Vancouver Police Officer Scott Telford, who arrested Vilhauer, and Brandon Smith, owner of Dublin Down Irish Pub.
Smith said he was working at the pub, 813 Main St., when he heard a commotion. Someone told him, “You have to come check this out,” so Smith went outside, where a group was assembled. Across the street at Vancouver Ballroom, attendants at an underage dance were outside.
Smith said Vilhauer rode by on his bike.
The group was “hooting and hollering,” Smith said.
Testimony differed on how many times Vilhauer rode by, but it was at least twice.
Vilhauer, a personable man dressed for court in an argyle sweater and corduroy pants, took the witness stand. He said he’s an avid cyclist who builds custom bikes, and has participated in Portland’s annual World Naked Bike Ride three times. In 2009, the event was just a few days before his arrest. In that ride, he joined approximately 5,000 other nude cyclists.
“Why get on a bike naked?” Vitasovic asked.
Vilhauer said it’s a fun way to socialize with other cyclists, but he also believes nudity draws exposure to the vulnerability that cyclists feel sharing the road with vehicles. He said he has been hit, so he feels strongly about promoting bicycle awareness.
Vilhauer acknowledged that he had imbibed on June 18 and that he was naked, save for his helmet and shoes. His clothes were in his backpack. Under cross-examination, he told George that he felt the reaction from the Main Street crowd was positive.
In closing arguments, George told the jury that one witness heard “screams” from the crowd.
“There were screams. But what’s a scream? That’s not always a positive reaction,” George said.
George said there was a key difference between an organized nude event in Portland and what amounted to a pub crawl in Vancouver.
“This is not Portland,” he said. “He was a drunk, naked guy on a bike, making a show of himself in front of a bunch of teenagers.”
Vitasovic stressed to the jury that being naked in public isn’t a crime. For Vilhauer to be found guilty of indecent exposure, the jury would have to unanimously agree that the act was obscene and done with intent to “affront” or “alarm” someone.
“You don’t have a definition of ‘obscene’ or ‘affront’ or ‘alarm,’ ” Vitasovic said.
The jury would also have to find that the nudity was “open,” he said.
“You’re on a bike,” he said with a shrug. “It’s not as open as it could be, but it’s open.”
But was it obscene?
“That’s where the ball is in your court,” he said.
As for the act being offensive, he urged the jury to think about the context. This wasn’t a case of a naked bicyclist riding in front of an elementary school when students were getting out, he said. It was almost midnight when Vilhauer was arrested.
Vitasovic questioned the assistant city attorney’s point that Vilhauer should have known that someone would have been offended.
“If it’s so likely someone was offended by this, why didn’t one person take the stand today and say they were offended?” Vitasovic said.
Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or email@example.com. Staff writer John Branton contributed to this report.