SPRINGFIELD, Virginia — Eric Williamson, a 29-year-old commercial diver, woke up last Monday, strolled down stairs and made some morning coffee. Little did he know that he would soon be going to jail for doing just that.
It seems, while walking around inside of his home nude he was spotted by a mother walking her 7-year-old son to the nearby school bus stop. Shocked that someone would walk around inside of their own home in the nude, the mother called the police and reported what she apparently deemed was lewd and lascivious behavior.
Rather than a simple telephone call to the resident informing him that he could be seen from the outside of his home and that maybe even scant clothing would be more appropriate, or an anonymous letter reciting the same, or better yet, a knock on the door; the mother instead calls the police and reports the resident. The police arrive on scene and, again, rather than give the man a warning like mentioned above, they promptly arrest him for indecent exposure.
Under Virginia law, indecent exposure is defined as:
Section 18.2-387. Indecent exposure.
Every person who intentionally makes an obscene display or exposure of his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where others are present, or procures another to so expose himself, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. No person shall be deemed to be in violation of this section for breastfeeding a child in any public place or any place where others are present. (Emphasis added).
The fact that Mr. Williams was inside of his home (not a public place) and was home alone at the time (no others present) makes for an uphill battle for prosecutors to get a conviction under Virginia law. Just proving the requisite element of intent seems like an almost impossible task under the circumstances.
Even so, this is a pretty gray area. On one side, the right to do whatever one wants to in the privacy of their own home and on the other the rights of the public passing by and peering in. So why did the police arrest the gentleman in question rather than just give him a warning? As it turns out, the reporting party, i.e., the mother, is married to a local police officer. It’s no secret that police protect their own — and this might very well another such example. Not one, not two, but five police officers showed up on the scene to take the resident into custody.
Now, if the resident had been masturbating at the window while watching the mother and son walking past that would have be creepy to say the least — but he wasn’t. He was making coffee in the kitchen and then walked through the house. How do we know this? The mother told the police as much. It’s not enough that the mother sees a naked man inside of his kitchen early in the morning — no, she’s watching intently as the gentleman moves throughout his house unable to take her eyes off of the gentleman or the house.
Now I ask you — who’s the pervert?
Ever since this case made national headlines bringing the police department under scrutiny, they seem to be desperate for someone else to come forward with a similar complaint or report about the resident. On local television, Fairfax police spokeswoman, Mary Ann Jennings, said this:
“We’ve heard that there may have been other people that saw something on Monday morning and we’d like to hear from them.”
Conveniently, the police spokeswoman did not elaborate on how the police heard of these “other” people — if it can be believed that they even exist at all.
Obviously questioning the strength of their own case, especially after one legal expert after another have stated this will be a tough case to win, the police have now gone door-to-door in the neighborhood asking nearby residents if they have ever seen the gentleman in question running around inside of his home naked and circulating fliers asking anyone with any such information to come forward. I guess the theory is, if you ask long and hard enough (pun intended), someone will eventually come forward and help shore up an otherwise weak case by trying to establish a pattern of indecency. Of course, this is in lieu of just dismissing the case and chalking it up to a rush to judgment. Instead, it appears as though the police will keep advertising until some media whore plays to their cue. It’s too bad for the police and prosecutors that the Balloon Boy’s parents are already occupied, because they would of made for the perfect witnesses for them. As it stands now, whoever ends up taking the cue, you can bet they will just as bad.
This entire incident wreaks of the police trying to protect one of their own and an overzealous prosecutor desirous of spending huge amounts of local tax payer dollars on a case that has already attracted the attention of the ACLU. We have all seen this kind of case spiral out of control by police and prosecutors not wanting to appear wrong or weak and thus feel a need to horse whip the case until their careers are all but unsalvageable. Mike Nifong, the former District Attorney of Raleigh, North Carolina, who was in charge of the failed rape prosecution of three Duke University lacrosse players was ultimately disbarred for his similar effort. Now that this case is in the national spotlight, the witness, the police and the prosecutor are all shackled together and caught in a bear trap for which there seems but one escape — an outright dismissal of the charges.
Will they cut their losses, trying to save face by claiming a lack of evidence, and dismiss the case in an attempt to get it behind them? Or, will they continue to whip the horse and move forward with an aggressive prosecution? Only time will tell.
For the record:
The Fairfax police might sound familiar. It was just this past February that a scandal broke out in the department when a 23-year veteran and lieutenant of the department, who was on a testing committee, was accused of giving out the answers in advance to officers preparing to take the sargent’s exam, which, if passed, would increase their pay considerably. The lieutenant, a police supervisor and two sargents got caught up in the scandal. It is unknown how long it had been going on.
UPDATE: In December 2009, this case went to trial. Mr. Williamson argued that he should be free to be naked inside of his home. But the judge disagreed and sided with prosecutors who argued that his actions showed he intended to make himself visible to those outside.
Mr. Williamson received only a suspended jail sentence and no fine, but says he still fully intends to appeal.