BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
A month before Congress repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” in December, gay ex-Army Lt. Dan Choi and 12 other activists handcuffed themselves to a fence outside the White House to protest the law.
U.S. Park Police ordered Choi and the others to remove themselves and go away. When they didn’t, police used bolt cutters to break the cuffs and arrested the 13, charging them with failure to obey the officers.
Choi, who goes on trial Monday in Washington, D.C., didn’t follow the officers’ orders because he couldn’t, according to his lawyer, Norm Kent of Fort Lauderdale.
“One of the defenses I intend to invoke is impossibility,” said Kent, 61, who also publishes South Florida Gay News. “Dan didn’t have the key, so how could he comply to the order to leave if he was chained to the fence?”
Video of the Nov. 15 protest was posted on YouTube. “The demonstrators chanted in protest of the U.S. military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Officers gave three verbal warnings to the defendants that they were in violation of federal regulations and needed to leave the area,” Kent said.
Police made a big boo-boo in the way they handled Choi’s arrest, he said.
“They should have unbolted him first, then asked him to leave,” Kent said, adding that the protesters were “handcuffed with their hands behind their backs.”
The other 12 defendants pleaded no contest, Kent said, but not Choi.
“Dan is refusing to take any plea deals,” Kent said. “He’s standing up for his rights and going to trial.”
If found guilty of the misdemeanor failure-to-obey charge, Choi faces six months in jail.
Choi has hired four lawyers to defend him, including Kent, 61, a radio talk-show host also known for fighting to decriminalize marijuana possession.
“Norm Kent is on my team because he is a suit of armor for the protection of the First Amendment in America,” Choi, 30, told The Miami Herald via a Facebook message.
Other attorneys on the case: Christopher Lynn, Yetta Kurland and Robert Feldman.
Congress repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ on Dec. 18. President Barack Obama signed off on the repeal July 21 and the military gay ban will officially end Sept. 20.
Choi — discharged from the Army after he told MSNBC talk host Rachel Maddow in 2009 that he is gay — hopes to rejoin the service.
“I will be honored and most dignified to return to the ranks with my head held high in unequivocal pride and enduring optimism that our nation can indeed live up to its motto, that all are created equal,” said Choi, grand marshal of the 2010 Miami Beach Gay Pride parade. “Upon return I will know in dogged mind and soul, that while I may die for my country, I do not live free and equal in my country.”