Charges dropped against 5 protesters of Gard­ner

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Libby Rainey

A Den­ver judge on Tues­day dropped all charges against five protesters who were cited for oc­cu­py­ing U.S. Sen. Cory Gard­ner’s Den­ver of­fice in July in protest of the Se­nate health care bill.

The city at­tor­ney asked Den­ver County Court Judge Adam Espinosa to dis­miss the case. Gard­ner had asked that the charges be dropped.

“This is prob­a­bly the first and last time I’ll say to the judge, lis­ten to Cory Gard­ner,” said Alan Kennedy-Shaf­fer, the pro-bono lawyer for the five de­fen­dants. “This vin­di­cates the cause of my clients — the fight for health care for all.”

A group of protesters gath­ered July 6 out­side Gard­ner’s of­fice, urg­ing the se­na­tor to vote no on the Se­nate health­care bill. Fol­low­ing a sit-in in his of­fice lobby, Gard­ner’s staff in­vited five protesters into his of­fice for a call with the se­na­tor. Once the call had fin­ished, the protesters, mem­bers of the Demo­cratic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica, re­fused to leave. Carolee Strom, Mer­rill Carter, Chris Diehn, Jes­sica Wester­bur and Jeremy Wil­burn were ar­rested and cited for tres­pass­ing.

At the time Gard­ner’s of­fice was in a pri­vate build­ing that closes at 5 p.m.

Carolee Strom, a re­tired nurse, ex­pressed relief at the out­come but also stood by the de­ci­sion to oc­cupy Gard­ner’s of­fice.

“I called, I emailed, I texted, I protested and his ears were closed. It had come to a point for me where civil dis­obe­di­ence was the only road I could take,” Strom said.

Gard­ner did not ap­pear in court, but protesters gath­ered out­side the build­ing held a card­board cutout of the se­na­tor. About 30 peo­ple — Colorado of­fi­cials Sen. Irene Aguilar, Sen. Andy Kerr and Rep. Joe Salazar among them — gath­ered in front of the Lind­sey-Flani­gan Court­house Tues­day be­fore the hear­ing to de­mand that pros­e­cu­tors drop the charges. Protesters car­ried signs read­ing “Health Care For All” and “Stop Re­peal.”

Gard­ner’s of­fice has been a hot spot for protest in re­cent months. Ten dis­abil­ity-rights ad­vo­cates, many dis­abled them­selves, were ar­rested af­ter a 57hour sit-in at Gard­ner’s Den­ver of­fice in late June. The protest was part a na­tion­wide ac­tion by ADAPT, a na­tional group that or­ga­nizes for dis­abil­ity rights.

Eight of the peo­ple ar­rested for the ADAPT sitin re­ceived a fine and com­mu­nity ser­vice in court on Aug. 31, said Dawn Rus­sell, one of the protesters. Rus­sell said Tues­day that charges against her and her sis­ter, Hope Mose­ley, had been dropped. Both women also were cited in January, for tres­pass­ing while try­ing to ac­cess Gard­ner’s of­fice.

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