Judge Drops All Charges against July 7 Sit-in Protesters

On Tuesday, District Judge Adam Espinosa followed the recommendation of the Denver City Attorney and US Senator Cory Gardner to dismiss trespassing charges against five activists who on July 7 staged a sit-in in his office to call for the senator to vote against the GOP move to repeal the American Healthcare Act (ACA).

Merrill (Arnie) Carter, Christopher Diehn, Carolee Strom, Jessica Westerbur, and Jeremy Wilburn all appeared in court today with their attorney Alan Kennedy-Shaffer to submit a motion to dismiss charges.

On July 27 Gardner’s attorney submitted a statement asking for a withdrawal of the charges,

“The Prosecution has been made aware by United States Senator Cory Gardner’s offict that the Victim, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, no longer wishes the Prosecution to proceed, and has requested of the City Attorney for the charges to be withdrawn.  U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, the Victim, has no interest in the cases going forward.”

The decision followed a press conference held outside of the Lindsey Flanigan Courthouse where Senators Irene Aguilar and Andy Kerr spoke, as well as Representative Joe Salazar.  Senator Cory Gardner was represented with what has become a signature cut-out representation of the senator, the same cut-out that has been used in town halls and other events where activists say that they are making the statement that he has refused to meet with them.  The senator has yet to hold his own in person town hall since he was elected, although he did appear with other officials in Durango, Colorado on August 4.

The complaint against the defendants involved a charge of trespass onto private property.  Senator Gardner’s office was located in the Chase bank building on 17th Street but has since moved to the U.S. Custom House temporarily.  Representative Salazar addressed the senator’s office location in his comments during the press conference, “I  think the moment Goldman Sacs entered into a lease with a United States Senator any claim of private property goes away because that person is elected by the people, and that person has a right to speak to his or her senator.  That’s what we have here.  We have a senator who is trying to hide behind this legality of private property.”

Gardner’s office has stated that the new location is inside of a federal building instead of the former private property where other businesses were bothered by the heavy traffic, but Salazar disagreed,

“This is reminiscent of the 1940’s, the civil right movement of the 1940’s through the 1970’s where we have prosecutors prosecuting individuals for asserting their civil rights, asserting their constitutional rights, asserting their human rights.  And we have public officials who are using the office of the prosecutor to prosecute these individuals.  And guess what?  History has judged those individuals harshly.  And I hope that history judges the city attorney’s office harshly if they don’t drop these charges, and I know history is going to judge ‘Cardboard Cory’ extremely harsh for allowing this to happen.  Continue to stand with these individuals because they’re fighting for you.  They didn’t just didn’t fight for themselves.  They fought for you.  And this man here (pointing to the cut-out image of Senator Gardner), he ran.”

After the dismissal, defendants expressed relief along with continued frustration about the senator’s position on healthcare.  Jeremy Wilburn who was one of the five defendants said after the court appearance, “I think that this whole episode shows the disgraceful state of American democracy where we have a United States Senator who has tried for over a year to evade contact with the people whose his policies directly impact on a daily basis, and we have to risk arrest in order to share our stories with him and to illuminate him about how real people’s lives are going to be affected by his vote.  Even on the phone with us he continually denied that he had his mind made up.  He did everything to avoid any kind of responsibility.  I’m very proud to be a member of this group who stand in solidarity with the ADAPT people who came before us that had far worse treatment and were there for a far longer time.  We were just a small part of the whole nationwide protest that allowed people to stand up.”

Members of ADAPT, a disabilities rights organization held a 2-day sit-in at Senator Gardner’s office where ten people were arrested.  Charges against those activists have not been dropped and several of those cases have yet to be heard.

About Gardner’s vote to repeal the ACA Wilburn said, “I think it’s a disgrace.  It would have been one thing if he came out publicly in the beginning and said, ‘I’m for this’ and then taken the heat for it and had people explain to him how it would impact, but he just evaded.  He hid behind everything.  He called it a discussion draft.  He said, ‘Oh my mind isn’t made up’ when he helped to draft the bill in the first place.”  unfortunately it’s another example of the epitome of the Trump era where the only accountability that people have over their elected officials is on election day.”

Arnie Carter who also won a dismissal agreed, “It was pretty disgraceful.  He told us on the phone that he was so concerned with Coloradan’s healthcare and that he would do the right thing, and then he didn’t.”

During the July sit-in, the protesters were able to speak to Senator Gardner on the phone for 20 minutes according to Carter who responded to Gardner’s vote, “He voted with his party.  It speaks to who Cory Gardner really is.”

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