Robert Latta, the Denver water meter reader who slipped into the White House to try to see President Reagan's inauguration last month, arrived at D.C. Superior Court yesterday after driving 2,000 miles in a pickup truck and was ordered held pending a psychiatric examination.
"I'd like to clear my record," Latta said in an interview. "I want to pay for my crime."
Unshaven and wearing long underwear under a blue, pin-striped suit, Latta said he left Denver Sunday night to make his court date, eating candy bars and drinking sodas along the way and stopping occasionally for short naps. Latta said he made the trip by truck because "it's cheaper than flying."
Although Latta could not have been forced to return here on the misdemeanor charge of unlawful entry at the White House, he said he wanted to recoup the $500 he paid a bondsman for his release and did not want the charge to remain outstanding. "They have $500 of my money here for the bond. That's a lot of money to me. That's plane fare out here and back," Latta said.
Judge Paul F. McArdle set bond at $25,000 and ordered Latta to report to the Ugast Center at D.C. General Hospital, where he is scheduled to undergo a psychiatric examination to determine whether he is competent to understand the charge against him.
Latta, 45, was arrested Jan. 20 after he was spotted wandering around the White House one floor below the first family's living quarters.
Embarrassed White House and Secret Service officials, who had supervised massive security measures to protect the president during the private swearing-in ceremony, explained that Latta had simply walked into the White House with members of the U.S. Marine Orchestra and took a self-guided, 15-minute tour.
Latta spent six days in jail before he received money from his 79-year-old mother in Denver to post bond. A psychiatrist who interviewed Latta at the courthouse reported that Latta had said he "heard voices" telling him "you blew it."
A more detailed examination to determine Latta's competency was ordered at that time but -- to the dismay of U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova -- the court's paperwork wasn't completed until after Latta had posted bond and left town.
"I had to get back to work," Latta said, adding, "Who's the U.S. attorney? Does he work for U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese?"
Latta said he wanted to report to work the day after he arrived in Denver, but "there were so many reporters and TV people, it was kind of hectic in my apartment." His coworkers, he said, took the incident in stride. "I wasn't ignored or treated unfriendly in any way," he said. "I think they were surprised."
According to Judge McArdle, officials at the city's bail agency sent Latta a letter Jan. 30 ordering him to return to the District within 72 hours for the psychiatric examination because bed space had become available. McArdle was angered yesterday that Latta had not done so.
Latta said he thought he didn't have to respond to that order because his attorney, Peter Krautheimer of the D.C. Public Defender Service, was seeking to have the examination take place in Denver.
But Latta said he received another order from McArdle last Friday, setting a court hearing for yesterday. Latta said he left on his solojourney Sunday night with a suitcase full of clothes.
On advice from his attorney, Latta declined to comment on his celebrity status, but seemed fascinated when shown copies of articles about him that appeared in The Washington Post.
"Is my name in there? Oh, yeah, there it is, 'Latta.' "
Krautheimer said Latta should appear in court again when the psychiatric examination is completed.
"Do you know how long this is gonna take for me to be competent?" Latta asked. "Is there any way I can get out of this?"