The trial of gay former Army Lt. Dan Choi for his November 2010 arrest for chaining himself to the White House fence to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is scheduled to resume on March 28 in U.S. District Court in D.C.
The trial, which began in August 2011, has been on hold for more than a year over procedural disputes. The prosecutor initiated a highly unusual procedure known as a Writ of Mandamus that successfully overturned a ruling by the judge allowing Choi’s attorneys to argue that Choi was targeted for “selective” and “vindictive” prosecution.
Choi appealed the ruling barring him from using a selective and vindictive prosecution defense, but lost his appeals to higher courts.
At the White House protest, Choi and 12 other LGBT activists and supporters were charged with disobeying a lawful police order to disperse from the White House fence after each of them attached themselves to the fence with handcuffs.
The protest came at a time when many activists, including Choi, believed the Obama administration wasn’t pushing hard enough to persuade Congress to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law barring gays from serving openly in the military. Congress has since repealed DADT.
Choi was the only one of his fellow protesters that did not agree to an offer by prosecutors to plead guilty to the charge in exchange for having the case dismissed if they weren’t arrested again at the White House within a four-month period.
He argued that he had a constitutional right to protest at the White House fence and called on the government to drop the charge without imposing any conditions. Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela George, the lead prosecutor, refused that request.
In addition to his constitutional argument, Choi’s attorneys cited a technical breach by U.S. Park Police officers who made the arrests. The officers ordered Choi and the other protesters to disperse from the sidewalk in front of the White House, but Choi and some of the others were standing on an elevated ledge on which the White House fence is attached, not the sidewalk.
Thus Choi was not legally bound to obey the police order, his attorneys argued.
One of his supporters, attorney and gay Army veteran James Pietrangelo, argued in an amicus brief last October that the case should be dismissed because Choi has been improperly denied the ability to call certain witnesses, including gay former White House staffer Brian Bond.
Choi’s attorneys argued at the trial in August 2011 that Bond exchanged emails with the Secret Service and others at the White House in what appeared to be an effort to single out Choi for harsher prosecution. The White House has declined to comment on those allegations, but lead prosecutor George called such claims completely false.
She has argued that Choi’s political beliefs and sexual orientation are irrelevant to the case and that Choi’s arrest was based only on his refusal to obey the police order to disperse from the White House fence.
In a statement released on March 5, Choi said George “has unrelentingly pressed this case for three years now, demanding the maximum jail sentence: 6 months in federal penitentiary.”
Choi added, “My applications to re-enlist in the Army were denied solely because of this trial. Whether it is to ‘teach me a lesson,’ or prevent my reinstatement, or bully those who practice free speech, this prosecution will not give up.”