“Rather go to jail than to die without Medicaid”: Denver police arrest protesters at Cory Gardner’s office

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LB Smith is wheeled into the parking garage in ziptie cuffs. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

LB Smith is wheeled into the parking garage in zip tie cuffs. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver police arrested 10 protesters camped out inside U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's office Thursday evening.

They had occupied Gardner's office for the last two days in protest of the Republican health care bill. Thursday evening, police gave the group of protesters, five of whom were in wheelchairs, five minutes to leave but took out the zip ties sooner.

The arrests were live-streamed — as has been the entire sit-in — by ADAPT member Carrie Ann Lucas.

"Rather go to jail than to die without Medicaid," the protesters chanted as they were arrested.

The group had been in Gardner's Denver office at at 1125 17th St. since Tuesday, telling stories about why they need Medicaid. Analysts estimate that 628,000 people in Colorado alone would lose access to Medicaid under the current Republican proposal and that services would have to be cut going forward to make up for reduced funding. The action has attracted national attention, including from President Barack Obama's former speech writer, Jon Favreau, who described the occupiers as “heroes.”

Gardner has not taken a formal position on the Senate bill. At one point, he said it needs to have better protections for Medicaid, and at another, he said it had elements that would stabilize the insurance market. Lacking support for the bill, Republican leadership has postponed a vote until after the July 4 recess.

Those in the office included Kalyn Heffernan, MC of the rap group Wheelchair Sports Camp.

"Your hard earned city tax dollars at work, bullying crippleds. Another day in 'merica," Heffernan said as police removed protesters. "It didn't have to be like this. All we needed was a 'no' from Gardner."

Kalyn Heffernan is escorted to a police van. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Police confiscated Lucas' belongings while she was one of the last remaining protesters in Gardner's office. Her phone continued live streaming to Facebook from inside her purse and audio remained clear.

Saying she was neither resisting arrest nor cooperating, Lucas refused to show police how to operate her wheelchair, which includes a ventilator.

Denver police arrest protesters inside Cory Gardner's office. June 29, 2017. (Screenshot from Carrie Ann Lucas's Facebook live stream of the arrests)

Gardner's office said they asked security and police not to remove the protesters and have had staff staying in the office overnight Tuesday and Wednesday.

“The top priority throughout this protest has been allowing these individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights in a safe environment," Gardner's office said in a statement. "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.”

However, Marika Putnam, a spokeswoman for the Denver Police Department, said there was a signed complaint from a representative in Gardner's office.

Carrie Ann Lucas is the last protester led out of the building by police. She boarded an RTD bus that left with a patrol car as an escort. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

When asked about the contradiction, Gardner's office confirmed this and said that building management asked them to sign a letter giving police permission to remove the protesters.

An unidentified person not in police uniform read a statement prior to the arrests: "The building management has informed us today that we are in violation of our lease by allowing you to remain in the office any further. From this point forward, you can no longer remain in our office or the building."

Estrealla Rowe watches Denver Police officers lock down the ground floor of the Chase Bank building. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Carrie Ann Lucas is the last protester led out of the building by police. She boarded an RTD bus that left with a patrol car as an escort. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Police watch as Carrie Ann Lucas is led onto an RTD bus. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Carrie Ann Lucas is driven away in an RTD bus. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Supporters raise fists as Carrie Ann Lucas is driven away in an RTD bus.

Kevin Beaty, Andrew Kenney and Stephanie Snyder contributed reporting.

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