A prominent gay D.C. defense attorney who provided legal representation to low-income gay and transgender clients and worked on court-appointed cases at the D.C. Superior Court was found bound, gagged and strangled in his vacation apartment in the Dominican Republic on Oct. 30.
Authorities in the capital city of Santo Domingo told the Washington Post and the Dominican Republic press that local police found D.C. resident Van Teasley, 55, dead in his apartment in an upscale neighborhood with the door open and no signs of a forced entry.
Police were investigating the death as a homicide and did not indicate whether they determined a motive for the crime.
“He was known to be a fair and very good attorney,” said transgender activist Earline Budd, who noted that Teasley represented many clients she helped through her past work with Transgender Health Empowerment, a local group that provided services for D.C. area transgender residents.
Budd and local trans activist Sherri Meeks, both of whom now work for the local group Helping Individual People Survive (HIPS), said Teasley was gay and represented some of HIPS’ transgender and gay clients in addition to his regular work representing clients before the Superior Court.
“He was a very prominent person in the LGBT community,” Meeks told the Blade. “He was a very nice man and he served as a mentor to LGBT people” in substance abuse treatment programs, according to Meeks.
“He was instrumental in getting me clean and sober,” she said.
In 2008, Teasley testified before a City Council committee on the issue of hate crimes targeting LGBT people in the District. He called on city officials and D.C. police to more aggressively address hate crimes against all people.
People who know him say Teasley has represented clients before the D.C. Superior Court for more than 25 years. He has been praised for his thorough work in defending people charged with assault and drug-related offenses along with other crimes in cases where the court appoints him to represent people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer.
The Post reported that on Monday at the courthouse one judge called for a moment of silence for Teasley while another judge praised him as a “very fine and talented” lawyer.
According to the Associated Press, one of Teasley’s friends in Santo Domingo contacted police after Teasley didn’t respond to phone calls and didn’t answer his door bell. Another friend told Channel 4 News that Teasley arrived in Santo Domingo last Thursday, Oct. 30, and was scheduled to return to the U.S. on Nov. 4.
Tom Donahue, who has rented an apartment from Teasley in Southeast D.C. since earlier this year, called him a “wonderful landlord” who owned several rental properties in different parts of the city. He said Teasley lived with his mother in a house he owned on the 1300 block of G Street, N.E.
Donahue criticized speculation by people posting messages on social media that Teasley could have been killed by someone he picked up at a gay bar or another gay meeting place in Santo Domingo. Teasley’s death follows the recent murder of a Dominican transgender woman.
“To speculate on what happened before the police investigation is completed is not fair to him or his family,” Donahue said. “It could be someone who followed him and got into his apartment. Whatever it was, this is a man that should be respected. It doesn’t matter how it happened.”