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Sorry, kids: Woman who insists on gardening topless near school is 52

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Boulder's Catharine Pierce, 52, doesn't like anything to get between her and her garden -- which is why yesterday afternoon she tended the flora and fauna in her front yard topless.

Pierce lives within a block of the Shining Mountain Waldorf School, a pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade facility, which may explain why the Boulder Police Department started receiving complaints.

But callers who weren't feeling satisfaction from the sight of Pierce's breasts (or, reportedly, her yellow thong) were unhappy with the cops, too. Although a public nudity ordinance is before the Boulder City Council, Pierce was doing nothing illegal under current law. All officers could do is ask her to put on a shirt -- which she refused to do.

Boulder Police spokeswoman Sarah Huntley has the details:

"We got a call around 1:40 p.m. or so yesterday from an individual who was upset that she was apparently outside with no shirt on," she says. "This is not a yard that's concealed. It's very visible from the sidewalk. And the person who called us was upset, because there's a school around the corner, and this person believed schoolchildren were going to be exposed to this. So we sent an officer out to talk to her."

Talking was all the officer could do under current Boulder law. District Attorney Stan Garnett has lobbied in favor of a public nudity ordinance as a way of dealing with annual events such as the Naked Pumpkin Run and the World Naked Bike Ride. That way, participants could be charged with lesser penalties as opposed to more serious sex offenses that didn't fit the crime, he said.

The Boulder American Civil Liberties Union objected to this concept for a slew of reasons, including the notion that the ordinance would criminalize the aerolas of women's nipples while legalizing those belong to men. And while the ordinance moved forward in the city council process last month, the segment about nipples was dropped.

For that reason, Huntley says, the officer did nothing more than "ask her if she would consider putting a shirt on."

After that, she continues, "she went inside and the officer left. But then her husband [Robert Pierce] called our department quite upset, saying the officer told her to put her shirt on, and isn't it true it's not illegal? And the supervisor confirmed that it isn't illegal under the current law -- but just because something's illegal doesn't mean an officer can't make a request based on the totality of the circumstances. The officer's particular concern is that we had received one complaint at that point, and there was a close proximity to a school, and children would presumably be walking by the house soon."

Robert Pierce didn't share this concern, Huntley says: "Once the supervisor agreed with the husband that, in fact, she wasn't doing anything illegal, the husband notified the supervisor that she would go back outside and continue gardening."

And she did -- after which the BPD phone started ringing.

"We got a total of four additional complaints from neighbors and parents who expected us to do something about the situation," Huntley notes. "We advised them that there was really nothing to do about the situation except talk with her, which we'd already done."

Huntley doesn't know if the children of the grousing parents had already gotten an eyeful of Mrs. Pierce, of if they were simply afraid they would.

The BPD was in favor of the public nudity ordinance as originally written, seeing it as a way for law enforcement "to strike some kind of balance of community concerns," Huntley says. And even though they'd prefer that the language pertaining to women's nipples be put back into the regulations, they still see the rules as better than what's presently in place.

Those opposing the rules have argued that the Naked Bike Ride and the Naked Pumpkin run seldom generate any complaints -- but that wasn't the situation in this case. "It is somewhat of an unusual circumstance," Huntley acknowledged. "She's in a clearly visible place that's in close proximity to a school and schoolchildren. That set of factors creates more of a possibility that you're going to have someone affronted by it."

And there could be more affronting in the immediate future. Pierce, who was threatened with eviction for gardening in pasties and a thong, appears willing to take advantage of Boulder's laws. And it's supposed to be another beautiful day...

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