Residents in Westhampton are up in arms over an indecent exposure incident that allegedly occurred in early spring — just a couple of blocks from the all-girls St. Catherine's School. But what really goads some residents is that their City Councilman, lawyer G. Manoli Loupassi, is representing the alleged offender.
Richmonder Grant Weems Caskey, 25, was arrested June 10 and charged with exposing himself near the intersection of Grove and Seneca avenues April 6. An eyewitness told police he was masturbating in his car.
"It was one of the first pretty days" of spring, recalls Kristi Smith, who reported the alleged incident to police. Smith, pushing her 1-year-old daughter in a jogging stroller, recalls walking along Grove with her sister and 13-year-old niece who were visiting from out of town when they stumbled upon a man sitting in his car, exposed.
"We were talking about the flowers blooming and the different architecture ... and then, um, this car was parked across the street," Smith recalls. "This boy was masturbating in his car with his pants down around his knees."
Smith flew into a rage. "I just started yelling for him to get out of my neighborhood, to stop what he was doing," Smith says. "My hands were flailing all over the place. And he continued to masturbate while he was looking at me."
Smith later picked Caskey out of a police lineup. He was arrested, and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure Sept. 13. His lawyer, Loupassi, is appealing the conviction. Caskey was also charged with two felony counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He faces trial on all three charges Nov. 9.
While the incident was horrific enough, Smith says, she doesn't understand how Loupassi can represent the man she sees as a threat to her neighborhood — the one Loupassi was elected to represent.
Betsy Gardner, who lives on Albemarle Avenue, says Loupassi has done a lot of good for the community — until now. "I like Manoli," she says. "I just feel like it's a definite conflict of interest."
"I would like to see him think about our community," says Andrea Holt, another Westhampton area resident. "We have a lot of children around here."
Lawyers who hold public office are allowed to work in the district where they live. But Loupassi, president of City Council, admits he's in an awkward position.
Loupassi says if he'd known where the alleged incident took place when he agreed to take the case, he would have reconsidered. But he didn't discover the connection until much later. "I was fully along in the case, and I had been retained at that point," he says. "I had a duty to represent him."
And his client deserves good representation, he says. "I'm not in the business of angering my constituents," Loupassi says. "That's the profession I'm in."
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Diane Abato, who is prosecuting Caskey, says it's a common practice for politicians who double as lawyers to try cases or represent clients within their districts.
Caskey's case, she says, isn't particularly unusual either. At the Sept. 13 trial, she told the Richmond court that Caskey had a history of exposing himself. Henrico County police, she told the court, had been called to his former home in that county on six occasions for reports of indecent exposure. In his statement to police, Abato said Caskey likened his habit to "bungee jumping" or "driving a NASCAR." — Scott Bass