Civil Rights

Topless female photographer settles NYPD civil rights suit for $40,000

Holly Van Voast, an artist who was arrested multiple times for photographing herself topless at various New York City locations, has settled her constitutional rights lawsuit with the city’s police department.

A1992 New York State Court of Appeals opinion (PDF), the New York Daily News notes, holds that both women and men can go topless in public. The settlement awards Van Voast—who takes on the persona of paparazzi photographer Harvey Van Toast in her topless photo shoots—$40,000.

The civil action, which alleges unlawful imprisonment, negligent hiring and constitutional rights violations, involves 10 incidents, Van Voast told the Village Voice. Van Voast says she reportedly told police that she didn’t need to wear a shirt when they approached her, and their response was often taking her to hospitals for psychological evaluations. She was once held for six days at New York Presbyterian.

Van Voast, who now lives in Berea, Ky., reportedly appeared as Harvey Van Toast at a midtown Hooters, Grand Central Terminal and the Staten Island Ferry.

She also brought him out at a 2011 Midtown Community Court hearing involving her Grand Central arrest. The judge tabled the matter until Van Voast agreed to put her shirt back on, and apologize, according to the New York Times. She did, and she later told the paper that her 89-year-old court-appointed lawyer in the criminal matter had advised her not to remove her shirt in court.

“My lawyer has been sort of confused by my behavior,” she said.

The civil settlement also awarded $37,250 in attorney fees, according to the Village Voice. For the civil matter, Van Voast is represented by Ron Kuby and Katherine Rosenfeld of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.

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