WASHINGTON -- Wallace "Da Wall" Severino handcuffed himself Tuesday to a District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles office over a $98 fee stemming from an alcohol-related driving charge that was dismissed a decade ago.
A lot of people -- Severino's wife and the lawyer who represented him in the DUI among them -- have suggested he just pay the $98. Severino can't renew his Maryland driver's license until D.C. drops the fee, which seems unlikely, or until he pays. That also seems unlikely.
"I'm not going to pay a blackmailer," Severino told The Huffington Post on Wednesday, about 18 hours after he was released from jail. "Knowing what I know about American rights, what our government is supposed to do for us. This fee that the Department of Motor Vehicles is trying to levy upon me is quite literally an assault and blackmail. They are nothing more than extreme government bullies."
Severino, who has a long grey beard and wears a leather hat covered in pins and a leather vest covered in patches, says he first found out about the fee some three weeks ago, when he went to renew his Maryland driver's license. He lives in North Rockville, a Montgomery County suburb. He said he hasn't lived in D.C. nor had a D.C. driver's license for about 30 years, so he was surprised when Maryland officials told him he could not renew his Maryland license because of the outstanding fee.
The "week before last," Severino said, he went to a D.C. DMV office to try to contest the fee. He said he was sent "to one office," then "they sent me to another office." He finally ended up talking with an employee who told him that on top of the $98, he also owed money for two tickets dating back to 1978.
"Fifty dollars a piece," said Severino. "I paid these!"
The city dropped its claim for the 1978 tickets. After an administrative hearing last Friday, the agency told Severino that the period for appealing the $98 fee had passed, however.
"Mr. Severino had a reinstatement hearing on Friday, Jun 22nd, to reinstate his driving privileges in D.C.," Lucinda Babers, director of D.C.'s DMV, told HuffPost in an email. "His reinstatement request was approved, and he is now eligible to reinstate his driving privileges by paying the $98 reinstatement fee and any other outstanding debt to D.C."
Severino said he is disabled from combat, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and becomes "virtually comatose" when he is frustrated. Severino said on a 2011 YouTube video that he's been the "rear guard" of a D.C. marijuana-legalization protest since 1978. He rides in Rolling Thunder, the motorcycle rally that calls attention to missing soldiers. Another of Severino's activities is helping shield funerals from Westboro Baptist Church's anti-gay protestors.
On Tuesday, Severino locked himself to the outside door of the DMV at about noon. WRC-TV/NBC4 reported that D.C. police gave Severino "a third, fourth and fifth chance to just walk away"; the video of the arrest shows an officer saying, "This is not going to solve anything other than getting you locked up."
As he was led off with his hands cuffed behind his back early Tuesday afternoon, Severino told the camera, "Let's hope I find a kind judge who listens to my plight. Maybe then I can get some justice."
It hasn't happened yet. "I still didn't get my day before the judge," Severino said, explaining he was released from jail at about 6:30 p.m., and has a court date set for July 12 for a misdemeanor charge as a consequence of his DMV protest.
Severino had a month to renew his license when he first found out about the $98 fee. That time has shrunk to a couple of days. What will he do between now and and then? "I don't know," said Severino. "I have until the close of business Friday."