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PHB report: Lt. Dan Choi and Captain Jim Pietrangelo pleaded not guilty, going to trial

We were in the courtroom as Lt. Dan Choi and Captain Jim Pietrangelo, jailed for chaining themselves to the fence at the White House because of inaction on repeal of DADT, and it was a dramatic and moving appearance. Many of the ENDA 8, and and other supporters were also present, including Alex Nicholson of Servicemembers United, a nonprofit organization tasked with advocacy and activism on DADT.

Jim Pietrangelo was brought in first, in handcuffs and heavy leg shackles, and was told of his options after being charged with Failure to Obey A Lawful Order by a Police Officer. One cannot be jailed for this offense, but he could:

* go to trial

* pay a $100-$1000 fine that would go to a special victims fund

* pay a $100 fine with the case closed to avoid a trial with no admission of guilt.

The judge was surprised when Pietrangelo declared “not guilty” and wanted to proceed with a trial. What this means is that he will face a different judge in a different court and has to retain his own attorney. He and his attorney must appear in court on April 26.

Pietrangelo was released and left the courtroom.

Dan Choi was led in, looking stoic and resolute as he stood at the podium. He was charged with the same violation as Pietrangelo and when the judge read the same options to him and asked for Choi’s response, he said:

I’m not ashamed, I’m not finished. Not guilty.”

As he was released, the heavy shackles crashed to the floor much louder than it had when Pietrangelo’s were unlocked, reverberating noticeably.

There were hugs and tears all around for both Choi and Pietrangelo as they left the courtroom. It was an amazing moment for the movement, but aside from Alex Nicholson, it should be noted that none of our advocacy organizations sent a representative to attend this historic event in civil rights activism.

As he walked to the lobby to exit, I asked Dan to share his impressions about his time locked up for his activism. I thought I was going to have some great footage to show you but it was at time that the surly D.C. Superior Court security thugs asked roared for a Newsweek reporter, Joe Sudbay and I to give them our cameras and to delete the footage.

Now I have to tell you that when we first went into the court building, you have to go through screening. I put my bag, which had a ton of gear, a laptop, cell phone and two cameras in it on the belt, and it went through and I was allowed to take it in.

There was no sign on display saying no photography or recording in the building.

So what would you assume? The security didn’t ask to hold the camera prior to going in after it was screened, and there’s no sign saying you can’t use it.

They reviewed each camera (and my cell phone!) and told me to delete and footage or photos, then asked me for my name, address and phone number, ostensibly to put us on some sort of watch list, I suppose, but the clear message was intimidation. Joe Sudbay’s account, just so you don’t think I’m blowing this out of proportion:

As we left the court house, several of us started filming Dan. Big mistake. The court house doesn’t allow filming in the hallways. Now, there’s no sign that says anything about it — and we were allowed to bring our cameras in. But, the marshals sprang into action. And, I have to add, Marshall Gambel was pretty obnoxious about it. As if we all knew that the Executive Judge had to approve it. Whatever. I had to delete 24 seconds of video. But, as you can see below, I got great video outside of the court. Dan had a message for our leaders:

Note: a law student, one of the ENDA 8 said she has recorded time and again in this courthouse, in fact in a courtroom without an issue, so it appears that only SOME people are not allowed to film in the lobby.

After that drama, we did get to film outside and I asked for Dan and Jim to comment. It was riveting. He challenged the President, Congress and LGBT leadership.

Some quotes:

This is a very clear message to Pres. Obama and any other leader…we will not go away.”

We’re going to do it again.” And, he wanted President Obama and others to know “we will not go away.”

A slideshow of photos including fellow arrestee Robin McGehee of and Pelosi ENDA 8 members.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding