Knowing the law and keeping up with the news has paid off for Effie Krokos, who just received a $50,000 settlement from the City of Loveland after she was cited by a local police officer for tossing a Frisbee topless in her own yard — even though a recent 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the long-running Free the Nipple-Fort Collins case made doing so in Colorado and much of the West legal for women as well as men. But Krokos says her actions weren't calculated.
"I didn't do this for the money," she explains. "I did it just because I thought I was equal to a guy."
Similar beliefs inspired Free the Nipple-Fort Collins's Brit Hoagland, who was appalled by an October 20, 2015, hearing at which Fort Collins councilman and former mayor Ray Martinez publicly agonized over the possibility that children under age eighteen might spy a breast live and in person, given that local laws keep "pornographic" magazines such as Playboy out of view at convenience stores.
In a 2017 interview, Hoagland told us she "became interested in the issue because I wanted to dip my toes into politics. I had just graduated from CSU in human development and family studies, and I had thoroughly researched this topic: how families and children are affected by sexist rules, basically. I thought this would be a very simple issue to take on with the city."
Hoagland was wrong. Despite arguments against a toplessness edict, the city ultimately adopted an ordinance that read:
No female who is ten (10) years of age or older shall knowingly appear in any public place with her breast exposed below the top of the areola and nipple while located: (1) In a public right-of-way, in a natural area, recreation area or trail, or recreation center, in a public building, in a public square, or while located in any other public place; or (2) On private property if the person is in a place that can be viewed from the ground level by another who is located on public property and who does not take extraordinary steps, such as climbing a ladder or peering over a screening fence, in order to achieve a point of vantage.... The prohibition [on female toplessness] does not extend to women breastfeeding in places they are legally entitled to be.
The regulation established an infraction as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,650, or as much as 180 days in jail, or both.
In the spring of 2016, Hoagland and fellow plaintiff Samantha Six responded by suing Fort Collins over the ordinance, beginning a three-year judicial journey that ended with the aforementioned 10th Circuit ruling in their favor. Fort Collins's city council subsequently voted against appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As a result, according to attorney Andrew McNulty of Denver-based Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP, who represented Hoagland and Six, "The 10th Circuit decision applies to six states: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. So not only did Brit and Sam change the law in Fort Collins; they changed it throughout the 10th Circuit. If any of those states have a law that discriminates on the basis of sex — if it includes the words 'women are prohibited from,' or anything like them — those laws are presumed to be unconstitutional."
Enter Loveland, whose municipal code, established in 1974, includes suddenly outdated language of the sort McNulty describes. The "indecent exposure" section reads: "It is unlawful for any person to expose his or her genital area, or, in the case of a woman, her breasts below the top of the nipple, or to expose his or her buttocks, in or near any public place or in any place open to the public view."
This text was put to the test in late September, when Krokos and her fiance decided to toss a Frisbee outside their house.
"I had gotten overheated," she says, "and I'd taken off my shirt because I knew about the Fort Collins ruling. I wasn't openly displaying myself; I wasn't trying to cause an issue. It was just hot."
Hours later, Krokos was doing homework (she's a student at Front Range Community College) when, she says, "my fiance's mother came and said, 'The police are here.'"
Suddenly, Krokos was face to face with Loveland police officer Greg Harris — sort of. "He wouldn't talk to me, only my fiance, and I didn't like being treated like I wasn't there," Krokos recalls. "The officer said, 'You're pissing off the neighbors. You're making the neighbors mad.'" He also reacted to her mention of the 10th Circuit Court ruling by calling it "a rumor," and, adds Krokos, "He called me 'Honey' in a very derogatory way, and he wouldn't give me a straight answer about what I was being charged with. He basically just said, 'Here's your summons.'"
The exchange left Krokos feeling terrified. "I'm doing my first two years at Front Range before going to UNC to be a history teacher," she explains, "and I thought, 'My whole future is in the toilet. I can't be a teacher if I have indecent exposure on my record.'"
Fortunately, Krokos had captured most of the exchange with Harris on video — including the part during which the officer called the ruling "a rumor." The recording wasn't enough to persuade the first lawyers she contacted to take her case, but then she did some additional research and learned about the participation of Killmer, Lane & Newman's David Lane in the Free the Nipple-Fort Collins controversy. "It was a shot in the dark — just a general email, like the other ones I'd sent," she remembers. "But David got back to me right away and got the ball rolling from there."
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Loveland initially offered to dismiss the charges, but that wasn't good enough for Krokos. "I didn't want to have to deal with the same thing if I took my shirt off again," she says. "I didn't want the city to keep harassing me. And I didn't want there to be another woman who gets attacked by the system to think she's alone and think, 'I just have to pay this.' I've been taught to always fight for something that's right, and this didn't feel right. It didn't sit well with me."
In the end, Loveland ponied up. The police department has also stopped enforcing the indecent exposure law and has recommended that the city council look at changing it. A statement notes "The Loveland Police Department has provided and will continue to provide training to officers regarding changes in the law."
Krokos sees this as the right move for everyone. "I want it to be known that I'm not a feminist," she says. "I'm more a humanist. I believe everybody's equal, and if my fiance can be topless in our yard, I should be able to do it, too."
Click to read the Effie Krokos settlement agreement.