Disability advocates arrested by Denver police during sit-in at Cory Gardner's office

Arrests were caught on Facebook Live
Posted at 7:08 PM, Jun 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-30 00:40:43-04

DENVER -- A group of advocates, many of whom who are disabled, were removed and arrested by Denver police after more 48 hours of protest at U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s office. The advocates took up residency to demand the Republican senator from Colorado vote against the Senate health care bill.

The Facebook Live video below is from one of the advocates inside “Camp Gardner” during their removal from the senator's offices. WARNING: The video may not be suitable for all audiences.

The protesters could be heard chanting, "rather go to jail than die without Medicaid," as police came into the area where the protesters stayed and removed them one by one.

A witness who spoke with Denver7 reporter Jaclyn Allen outside Gardner's office Thursday evening said police told protesters that they were in violation of the building's lease.

But later Thursday, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department said the department acted on a sign complaint from a representative from Gardner's office. A total of ten protesters were arrested and now face a primary charge of trespassing. 

Watch the Facebook Live video below as protesters are taken by Denver police outside Gardner's office: 

In a press release sent to Denver7, Casey Contres, a spokesman for Cory Gardner, said Denver police removed the protesters from the building due to several factors including concerns for their health and safety, and the impact of the protest on other tenants int he building. 

“The top priority throughout this protest has been allowing these individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights in a safe environment. In order to allow this, staff have slept in the office for two nights and assisted and aided these individuals with several matters to ensure they were comfortable and safe. Earlier this evening, Denver police asked the individuals to leave. When they declined to leave the police were forced to remove them due to several factors, including serious concerns for their health and safety.” 

Many of the protesters are from ADAPT/Atlantis Community, Inc., a Denver-based group whose efforts are usually focused on increasing accessibility for disabled people on public transit systems.

The protesters first took up residence in Gardner’s Denver office Tuesday afternoon, just hours after Senate Republicans decided not to try and vote on the Senate’s version of the bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.

The office is in a large office building that also houses several other businesses. Police showed up to the office Tuesday evening for several hours, but never removed any of the protesters, who ended up staying overnight and remained there Wednesday afternoon.

Organizers had said they would stay at the office until Gardner commits to not vote for the bill, which would decimate Medicaid, a health care program utilized by many disabled people, across the country.

“While the vote on the BCRA is not happening this week, reports are clear the bill had not been pulled, and the GOP caucus is trying to appease their members that think the bill does not cut enough,” one of the participants, Carrie Ann Lucas, said. “Keep up the calls to Sen. Gardner to demand he vote no on the BCRA, and not sacrifice Coloradans’ health care to give a tax break to the wealthy.”

Lucas and others have been streaming the sit-in live on Facebook on and off since the sit-in began.

Gardner's office said Wednesday they’ve asked police and security not to remove any of the protesters from the office.

Contres also on Tuesday said that Gardner’s state director for Colorado had visited the office to talk about the health care legislation with the people sitting in.

“The organization currently in the office has spoken to Sen. Gardner several times and are in constant contact with his healthcare policy staff regarding requested reforms to our healthcare system,” Contres said. “Sen. Gardner wants the constituents that are in his office to have quality healthcare. He has concerns that our current system is imploding and won’t be able to provide quality care if nothing is done to fix it.”

Both of the House and Senate bills Republicans have crafted in recent months to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act—something many Republicans, including Gardner, have campaigned on in recent years—would make large cuts to Medicaid and force more than 22 million people currently with insurance off it.

Gardner has been particularly targeted by groups in Colorado, as he is a Republican in a state that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and hundreds of thousands would be expected to lose that coverage sometime in the next 10 years under both the House and Senate bills.

Both Republicans and Democrats have called for changes to the Affordable Care Act, but the pathway to getting there differs greatly between parties. Senate Republicans all-but shut out Democrats while crafting their bill, and there were zero Democratic votes in favor of the House bill when it passed that chamber.

But as the impasse reaches a peak in the Senate after a handful of Republicans—specifically those from states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA—said they wouldn’t even vote the bill onto the full floor for discussion, representatives from both parties have slowly started to acknowledge that the two parties needed to work together to fix the ACA.

But exactly what happens to the Senate bill over the remainder of the week, then after the July 4 recess, remains unknown.