There is a disturbing case in Richmond, Virginia where Michelle Renay Sutherland, 45, was to be held without bond after recreating the scene from the Virginia flag in a demonstration in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. As shown on the flag, Sutherland exposed one breast and was arrested for a misdemeanor of indecent exposure. The arrest itself raises concerns but the greater concern is the fact that Sutherland was to be held for more than a month without a bond on a misdemeanor charge. Richmond Judge Lawrence B. Cann III initially ordered Sutherland to remain in jail without bond but later apologized and granted a bond after public outcry.
I am a resident of Virginia and a huge fan of its flag (I also have a great affection for the Louisiana State Flag).
The flag shows Virtus after defeating Tyranny with her spear pointed down and her parazonium sheathed. Her left breast is exposed — the only nude element on any U.S. flag. A royal crown lies beside the fallen tyrant and the motto reads Sic semper tyrannis, or Thus always to tyrants. It is a reference to the words that were attributed to Brutus in slaying Julius Caesar.
Sutherland and another activist recreated that exact scene — right down to the exposed left breast. According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported, she was then arrested. Sutherland is a Brooklyn artist who goes by the name Sister Leona. On a video, Sutherland can be heard saying “I’m not sex. I’m actually dressed up as the woman who’s on, like, literally the flag.”
What happens next is baffling. She has remained in jail until his trial March 21 without bond on a minor, nonviolent offense. It is an absurd and deeply troubling situation. Putting aside the constitutionality of such obscenity arrests, the holding of someone for such a minor offense without a bond is inherently abusive in my view.
To his credit, Richmond Judge Lawrence B. Cann III apologized for his decision to deny bond but insisted that he did not have context behind Sutherland’s arrest. That leaves a concern about the original rejection of a bond without understanding the underlying crime. Most defendants do not have the benefit of outcry and publicity.
Cann is a district court judge for the 13th Judicial District in Virginia. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. He came to the bench with considerable experience as a trial lawyer in Richmond for 36 years with a concentration on business and construction litigation. He is considered an expert on construction law, mold litigation and mechanic’s lien issues.