Jay Brocco thought he'd put together a fairly successful, law-abiding life as a financial executive living and working in Reston. He still thinks so, but he's not sure what his friends, neighbors and co-workers think after he was arrested for indecent exposure, and his name and photograph were splashed across local newspapers.

All for a crime he never committed.

Brocco is out $35,000 in legal fees to clear his good name. And only yesterday did he get back the computer and family photos that Fairfax police took when they searched his home two weeks ago.

"It was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie," said Brocco, 54. "You can't prove your innocence. It's your worst nightmare, you're arrested for something you didn't do."

Earlier this month, Fairfax police charged Brocco with showing a nude photo of himself to a 16-year-old lifeguard at a Reston health club. The lifeguard had reported the incident to supervisors, and police were called in. Somehow, in a chain of events that Fairfax police yesterday declined to specify, investigators mistakenly began to believe that Brocco was the man identified by the lifeguard.

Brocco, who belongs to the club, and his lawyers say the mistake could have been sorted out with some basic investigation that police failed to do.

Yesterday, police conceded that they had never shown a photo of Brocco to the lifeguard for identification. They had never checked the health club's computerized entry logs to see whether Brocco had been at the club the day of the incident, never looked at a surveillance camera videotape of the incident and never interviewed Brocco before searching his house and arresting him.

Prosecutors asked that the charge against Brocco be dropped yesterday and that his record be cleared. But Brocco said he was still emotionally staggered by the experience of the arrest and ensuing publicity, not to mention his legal bills.

Maj. Michael Lomonaco, the head of the Fairfax police criminal investigations bureau, defended his unit's action. "I am satisfied we had sufficient probable cause for both the arrest warrant and the search warrant," he said.

The police did not offer an apology to Brocco.

Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said he had limited knowledge of the case, but he said that if Brocco wanted to file a complaint, it would be fully investigated. Manger said that from what he knows of the situation, there is a "good chance that [Brocco] is owed an apology. And if he is, I will give him one."

Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh stepped in and handled yesterday's dismissal in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

"Investigation has revealed that he is, in fact, innocent," Morrogh told Judge Gaylord L. Finch Jr., "and had nothing to do with the factual underpinnings of this charge."

Brocco's lawyers and an American Civil Liberties Union official said they were concerned that magistrates, who are not lawyers, had issued both warrants.

"If you're going to have these civilian magistrates," said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia, "they need to be much better trained and demonstrate some understanding of the Fourth Amendment before they're allowed to be in a position of authority."

The incident occurred July 9 at the Fitness Club at Reston Town Center, which is in the Hyatt Regency hotel. The lifeguard wrote in a report that a man had displayed a picture of himself, sexually aroused, with his swimsuit at his ankles. The lifeguard's report offered a description of the man, including details such as height, weight and hair color that don't match Brocco's features.

Brocco said Detective Ricky Savage came to his home and called twice in August but wouldn't tell his wife why he was calling. He never called again.

Brocco said he didn't hear from police again until they came to his home on Oct. 4 with a search warrant and spent nearly three hours in his home. They told his wife they had a warrant for his arrest.

Brocco surrendered to police the next morning and was immediately released on $2,500 bond. His photo and a news release were sent to local media, and articles about Brocco appeared in the Fairfax Journal, the Reston Observer and the Reston Connection.

Copies of the articles were faxed to his boss at TRW in Reston, where Brocco works as a chief financial officer of a subsidiary.

Brocco hired defense lawyers William B. Moffitt and Henry W. Asbill, who did their own investigation and helped convince prosecutors that Brocco was not the right man. The case is again under investigation, but no arrests have been made.

Richard C. Goemann, the Fairfax County public defender, said Brocco's arrest should be a cautionary tale.

"It takes this happening to someone who is relatively well-to-do for these things to be brought to the public's attention," he said.