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She was arrested for being topless at a Sanders rally. Now she’s suing LAPD

Topless Sanders supporter sues LAPD
Democratic presidential Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a March 23 rally at the Wiltern Theatre.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A partly nude woman who was arrested on suspicion of indecent exposure outside a rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Los Angeles has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the Los Angeles Police Department, alleging that the arresting officers used excessive force and assaulted her.

Anni Ma, 25, contends in the lawsuit filed Thursday that on the night of March 23, she was wearing a skirt but had her breasts and nipples exposed outside the Wiltern Theatre, where the Vermont senator was staging a rally for his presidential campaign.

Ma acknowledges that she initially had the words “Free the Nipple” and “Feel the Bern” in tape pressed across her chest, but says she removed the tape, according to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court’s Central District of California. On her upper chest, the word “Equality” was written.

Ma’s lawsuit states she was advocating for equal rights and equal treatment for women. At no time were her “genitals” or sex organs exposed, according to the complaint, which notes that “ ‘mammary glands’ are obviously not sex organs.”

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Still, LAPD officers grabbed her and pressed her against a pole, telling her to apply tape over her nipples or face arrest, according to the suit. When she didn’t respond, a police officer held her arms, pushed her toward the ground and handcuffed her, according to court papers.

As police detained her, she yelled, “Feel the Bern” and “My body, my choice,” the suit says.

She was booked in a downtown jail on a count of indecent exposure and held on $10,000 bail. She was released the following day.

Around this time, Ma said she developed a urinary tract infection, which she attributed to the “unsanitary conditions” of the city’s downtown jail, according to the suit.

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The suit, which also names two LAPD officers who arrested her, alleges Ma’s civil rights, including her right to free speech and peaceful assembly, were violated during an unlawful arrest. The complaint also describes the officers as applying a “gender biased” interpretation of the law, and says the arrest amounted to assault and battery.

“This offensive contact by [police] was without consent, unwanted and not warranted by any exigency of the circumstances,” the lawsuit states.

Ma is seeking damages for mental and emotional distress; physical injuries and bodily harm; medical expenses; bail costs and legal fees.

A spokesman for the L.A. city attorney’s office could not be reached for comment.

For more news in California, follow @MattHjourno

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