ERA advocate held without bond on indecent exposure charge

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)

A pro-Equal Rights Amendment protester is being 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.

Michelle Renay Sutherland, 45, of Florida, is charged with a single misdemeanor count of indecent exposure. According to online records, a judge denied her release when she was arraigned Tuesday and she is being held at Richmond City Jail until her trial, which is scheduled for March 21.

Her lawyer, Aaron Forstie, said he was uncertain why she was not released, but said a bond hearing is set for tomorrow. “Hopefully we will get it remedied,” he said.

Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, whose office has stopped requesting defendants be held on bond except in cases where they consider the accused dangerous, said he’s submitting a request that she be released on personal recognizance.

He said the decision to hold Sutherland “doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” but said the judge would have considered whether she represented a flight risk or danger to public safety. He said a judge would also consider statements she made in court, if any.

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

Capitol Police covered Michelle Renay Sutherland with jackets before leading her away and charging her with a single count of indecent exposure Monday during a protest in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Ned Oliver/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.

Advocates campaigning in support of the ERA decried her arrest and continued detention.

“The system was designed by men, for men, and they seem intent on scaring women from political speech. In this situation we see a man exerting authority, who had no basis for that authority because Ms. Sutherland was not doing anything illegal,” said Kati Hornung, Campaign Coordinator for VAratifyERA, in a statement. “Further, the judge overstepped the boundaries of reasonableness, perhaps to make an example of Ms. Sutherland.

Hornug reported that Sutherland “is in good spirits and talking to women in the jail about the Equal Rights Amendment.”

“This is part of the reason why we need the ERA,” she said, “because the system is so male centric and they don’t know what to do with women who challenge their authority by using their First Amendment protected rights.”