The gay former Army lieutenant who handcuffed himself to the White House fence to protest the military’s now repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was found guilty in federal court on Thursday and fined $100.
The guilty finding against Daniel Choi came as the West Point graduate tried to turn the usually staid courtroom of the District’s federal court into a lively venue for protesting his prosecution for his role in the November 2010 demonstration.
Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola said his finding was consistent with the First Amendment because of the “radically different” approach of Choi and 12 others who refused to follow orders to leave the area in front of the White House.
Choi was discharged from the military for violating its ban on gays in the military and became one of the leading activists against the policy that President Obama formally repealed the month after his arrest.
But in court on Thursday, Choi’s erratic demeanor swung from emotional outbursts at the lectern to belligerent confrontations with a U.S. Park Police officer and the federal prosecutor. Dressed in a military uniform, Choi paced the courtroom, serving as his own lawyer.
“All I want at the end of this day is to return to the U.S. military,” Choi said through tears.
Choi, who is not trained as an attorney, alternated between whispered apologies for his teary breakdowns and loud rebukes of Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela George for failing to refer to him as a lieutenant.
“Please remember where you are,” Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola cautioned after Choi used vulgar slang. “That may be appropriate in the barracks. It’s not appropriate here.”
Choi and the other demonstrators were charged with a criminal misdemeanor. The others had previously pleaded guilty, but had their sentences deferred. Many of them sat among Choi’s friends, family and supporters in the packed courtroom on Thursday.
Choi initially argued that he was prosecuted differently because of the subject of his protest. But Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled that the magistrate judge could not consider the issue of how Choi came to be prosecuted in reaching a verdict.
He could have faced up to six months in jail.