Fairfax man disputes charge of indecent exposure

Eric Williamson says Fairfax County police treated him
Eric Williamson says Fairfax County police treated him "like an animal" at his Springfield home last week. (Richard A. Lipski/the Washington Post)
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By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 26, 2009

The way Eric Williamson tells it, he might have been making coffee or flipping eggs or taking a picture down from the wall when a woman and her 7-year-old son walked by his Springfield house and saw him, through the window, naked.

He says he never saw them and never knew they'd seen him -- until the police showed up.

In a case that gained international attention last week, hitting a nerve for anyone who has ever dashed from the bedroom to the laundry room in the buff, Williamson was charged with indecent exposure.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened Monday morning, but everyone agrees on this: The 29-year-old was naked and home alone, and he could face up to a year in jail.

"I looked straight at the cops and said, 'You're telling me that none of you guys have ever walked across your kitchen or run to the laundry room to get some pants?' " said Williamson, who was handcuffed and taken before a magistrate. "I was treated like an animal. If there was something offensive, would not a knock on the door and heads-up suffice?"

From Williamson's Fairfax County neighborhood to Web sites around the world that picked up the story, the arrest fueled jokes, anger and more than a few there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I confessions.

But the two versions of what happened that morning reveal the complexity of cases in which the line between public and private space can be as thin as a windowpane.

Fairfax police say Williamson wanted to be noticed, positioning himself so that the mother and child would see him not once, but twice.

As officers tell it, the 45-year-old woman, the wife of a Fairfax police officer, was walking her son to school about 8:40 a.m. along a well-traveled path between public tennis courts and the house where Williamson had been living for three months when a noise drew her attention to a side door.

That's when she first noticed Williamson standing nude in the doorway, she said. When she and her son got to the sidewalk in front of the house on Arley Drive, they saw him again -- this time, through a large window that appeared to have no drapes.

Police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings described Williamson's version of what happened as "a gross exaggeration that was fueled by the media. . . . We don't arrest people for being nude in their house."

The element of intent

Washington area lawyers say the case, like others before it, will probably boil down to a crucial question: Did Williamson intend to be seen? Virginia law defines indecent exposure as the intentionally obscene display of private parts in a public place or "any place where others are present."

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