April 22, 2010 at 5:58 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
White House protesters released from jail

U.S. Army Lt. Dan Choi and five LGBT military veterans were released from jail Wednesday, one day after U.S. Park Police officers arrested them for handcuffing themselves to the White House fence in a protest against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Choi and Army veteran Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, who was among the people arrested at this week’s protest, were arrested in a similar White House action on March 18.

Similar to the earlier protest, each of the six arrested Tuesday at the White House fence were charged with a single misdemeanor count of refusing to obey a police order to leave the area of the fence.

At an arraignment Wednesday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Richard Ringell combined the two White House arrest cases for Choi and Pietrangelo and set a trial date for July 14 after the two pleaded not guilty. The men rejected an offer by prosecutors to pay a $100 fine in exchange for ending the case in a process known as post and forfeit.

The other four protesters accepted the post-and-forfeit offer and agreed to a condition requested by the D.C. Attorney General’s office, which prosecutes misdemeanor cases, that they stay away from the streets surrounding the White House until they pay the $100 fine. Ringell gave them one month to pay the fine.

The four who accepted the offer were Navy Petty Officers Larry Whitt and Autumn Sandeen, Air Force Cadet Mara Boyd, and Marine Corps Corporal Evelyn Thomas.

Attorneys representing Choi and Pietrangelo contested the White House “stay-away” order as a condition for their clients’ release, saying such a condition violates their First Amendment rights to approach the White House to express their opinions. But Ringell ruled against a motion by the attorneys to void stay-away order.

The charges pending against the six arrested protesters do not carry a penalty of incarceration in jail. But Ringell told the four who accepted the post and forfeit plea that they could face jail time if they fail to pay the fine and don’t show up for a court date he set as an alternative route to allow them seek a trial.

He told Choi and Pietrangelo that they, too, could face jail time for contempt of court if they fail to show up for trial.

Robin McGhee, co-chair of the LGBT protest group GetEqual.org, which coordinated the White House arrest actions, said the group plans more civil disobedience actions in the coming weeks, both in Washington and elsewhere.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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