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'VoyeurBus' performers to sue NYC over arrest

By The Associated Press


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NEW YORK — Two women, arrested after dancing topless in a glass-walled bus in Manhattan, began a $20 million lawsuit against the city yesterday as their lawyer lamented that New York is no longer "Fun City."

Attorney Michael Hardy called the Nov. 30 seizure of the "VoyeurBus" and the arrests of his clients and 13 others "illegal and outrageous." He said the women, dancing topless and blowing kisses at passers-by from the bus, "were expressing themselves in a completely legal manner."

At Manhattan's State Supreme Court, Hardy filed a "notice of claim," the first step that must be taken 90 days before an actual lawsuit can be filed against the city.

The people arrested were charged with disorderly conduct. Hardy said charges against eight of the men on the bus were dropped, while charges against bus driver Mark Collier and the six women are pending. They are due back in Manhattan Criminal Court on Jan. 12.

One of the women, Acquilla Withrock, 21, of Tampa, Fla., said the arrest was her first and she was shocked. "I came to have fun, to promote my First Amendment rights," she said, adding this was her first trip to New York.

Withrock said she had been traveling about a week with the bus, which goes around the country promoting the company's Web site.

A visit to the Web site showed that it had up-to-date information on the case. It referred to the mayor as "Fooliani" and accused the police of destroying the interior of the bus in a purported search for "evidence."

The other woman, Latisha Tolbert, 21, of Paducah, Ky., who said she has been on the bus about three months, said that besides New York, the group has been to Atlanta, Indianapolis, Miami, and other cities.

Tolbert said her Nov. 30 arrest was her first run-in with the police.

Besides Withrock and Tolbert, the lawsuit names Collier, the producer of the VoyeurBus Web site show; and MTC Online Inc., owner of the bus and the Web site, as plaintiffs.

The complaint names Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the city, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and the police department as defendants.

"This is a mayor who throughout his tenure has attempted to restrict freedom of expression," Hardy said. "This is the capital of the world, a city of free expression. He should relax."

At his press availability yesterday, Giuliani called the activities of the VoyeurBus group "stupid."

"Of course you're going to get arrested if you take your clothes off in the middle of the street," he said.

Hardy said the "pretext" for seizing the bus and arresting its occupants, which were causing a congestion hazard, was bogus. He said Sixth Avenue at 38th Street was congested at the time because President Clinton's motorcade happened to be passing by.

"There probably could have been no greater pleasure for the President of the United States than to have these ladies pass by," Hardy said. "I'm sure he wasn't offended."


Judge criticizes NYC's 'heavy stream of First Amendment' cases
In federal appeals court ruling, judge questions rationality of city's efforts to stop a photographer from taking nude pictures.  03.28.00