A promotional stunt arranged by a new Washington area radio station has outraged Manassas officials and led to criminal charges against one of the station's morning show employees, who appeared on the station's Web site last week displaying his rear end in front of the city's welcome sign.
City officials said this week that the prank was more than just embarrassing, complaining that it not only broke the law, but also eroded years of efforts at establishing Manassas as a nice place to live and visit. Police charged the employee, Timothy Nils Gustav Coburn, with indecent exposure, a misdemeanor that could land him in jail for up to a year.
According to Manassas city police, motorists along Centreville Road reported seeing a man showing his bare bottom in front of the city's welcome sign around 9 a.m. Nov. 26, putting his rear in place of the city's last two letters and smiling widely for a camera. A photo showing exactly that appeared on a Web site for Hot 99.5 -- Rockville-based WIHT-FM radio -- a few hours later.
The photo was promoting a radio station giveaway trip to the Bahamas, in which the station's morning show was soliciting entries for their "Show us your ass for a boarding pass!" contest. The show's Web site asked listeners to take photos of themselves mooning the camera in front of monuments or landmarks for a contest that was to air this week.
Coburn, 24, of Vienna -- known on the station's Morning Mess show as "Teapot Tim" -- apparently chose the city's welcome sign as a good place to drop his pants and snap a photo.
He was arrested on one charge of indecent exposure the next day, as was Mary Kate Unthank, 18, of Manassas, who took the picture. Unthank is not employed by the station. Both were arraigned in Prince William General District Court on Wednesday. Coburn was released on $1,000 bond. Information on Unthank's bond was unavailable.
"The City of Manassas finds this type of behavior offensive and demeaning, aside from the fact that it is criminal in nature," Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner said.
Three images of the photo appeared on the Web site last week, and the station added a smiley face icon covering part of the pictures after Coburn's arrest.
"It certainly was never our intention to offend the City of Manassas," Jeff Wyatt, the station's program manager, said in a statement.
Wyatt said that the station had removed the photos and that station officials were meeting to decide whether to continue the contest. "We regret any embarrassment this may have caused the Manassas community."
City leaders are very protective of Manassas's reputation and image, and they have devoted much time and effort over the past decade in improving the city's perception. During the Lorena Bobbitt trial, which has haunted the area as one of its most embarrassing episodes, city officials carefully reminded members of the media that the incident didn't actually happen within city limits.
Over the past few years, the city has poured enormous resources into revitalizing Old Town, and vacant storefronts have given way to new restaurants, shops and a sense of place and pride. Earlier this year, Manassas leaders crowed about the city being named one of the best places to live in the region by Washingtonian magazine.
"We've worked hard for a long time on creating a prideful community, and the appearance on the Web site denigrates that," City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes said.
Mayor Marvin L. Gillum (R), perhaps the city's biggest cheerleader, said the prank bothered him. "It's very demeaning and embarrassing for our residents and apparently also for the commuters who called it in," he said.
According to court records, Coburn "pulled his pants down and exposed his private parts in view of persons present and persons driving past his location," along Centreville Road at Breeden Avenue, a major commuter route.
Coburn also was ticketed along the Beltway recently when he stood atop a parked car as part of a promotional stunt that snared rush-hour traffic.
Hughes said police pursued charges because such activities are simply illegal and not because officials were concerned about the city's reputation.
"We don't advocate exposing yourself," Hughes said. "It doesn't make a difference if it was in front of a city sign or on a street corner. It's a violation of the law."
Before the contest was removed from Hot 99.5's Web site, it implored listeners to take similar photos to win a trip to the Bahamas for a Christina Aguilera concert. "Good luck and most of all, don't get caught!!" the Web site said.
Coburn and Unthank are scheduled to appear in General District Court for trial Jan. 27. If convicted, each could face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.