“Banning him from the District because he’s sitting in a tree or speaking out, I think is absurd,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group that is taking up Grogan’s case. “He’s strange, but do you know how many strange people enter D.C. every day who probably shouldn’t be here?”
Magistrate Judge Karen Howze signed the order Tuesday, telling Grogan to stay out of the city until a court hearing Feb. 25. The order is more sweeping than what prosecutors had sought. The U.S. attorney’s office had asked that Grogan be banned from the Capitol grounds, House and Senate office buildings, the Library of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.
But Howze broadened the request as a condition of releasing Grogan from jail until his trial.
Exiling someone from the District’s entire 68.3 square miles of roads, waterways and public spaces happens a few times a year but is still described as rare. The breadth of the order surprised First Amendment experts who have litigated or studied similar protest cases for liberal and conservative causes.
It is “a pristine example of an overbroad condition,” said David L. Hudson Jr., a law professor and First Amendment scholar at Vanderbilt University. “They need to go back and draft a more narrowly tailored restriction — meaning something that would comport with the First Amendment.”
Judges are not allowed to talk about pending cases, and Howze, through a spokeswoman, cited the restriction in declining to comment.
Grogan, 47, who calls himself “Pastor Rick” and runs a ministry and boarding house in Los Angeles, admits he’s an irritant, racking up about 10 arrests and a half-dozen convictions in two years in House and Senate buildings alone.
He said he patiently waits for the proceedings to be gaveled into recess before he stands and shouts — most recently in the Senate gallery when he screamed that legal abortions caused the massacre in Newtown, Conn.
“I preach, and I preach loudly on Capitol Hill,” said Grogan, who said he’s never spent more than a few days in jail. He’s been thrown out of a presidential debate, a Major League Baseball game attended by Mitt Romney and too many buildings to count.
“Most of the time, they arrest me, and then they let me go,” he said. But never, he said, had he been tossed from a city. He spoke by telephone from his red Ford Fiat as he drove home to California on Wednesday. By late morning, he was in Kentucky, a safe 550 miles from the District line.
“I don’t know why they would ban me from all of Washington,” he said. “I think they are totally suppressing my freedom of speech.”
Grogan said he obtained a ticket for the green section of the inauguration and hid a protest sign under his coat. Once past security, he said, he climbed the tree and began shouting. U.S. Capitol police officers used a bull horn to urge him down, then tried 35-foot ladders. But Grogan said he climbed higher and managed to stay 10 feet out of reach for five hours, getting a tree-top view of President Obama’s swearing-in.