The Colorado Springs Independent’s Nat Stein follows up on one of the lingering trespassing cases left over from the spate of protests this past summer over health care at Sen. Cory Gardner’s offices–most of which have been dismissed at Gardner’s request, but not in conservative Colorado Springs:
While the debate roiled on in Washington, D.C., Gardner’s home state offices became the sites of “vote no” activism, leading to some arrests. On June 29, disabled activists got wrangled out of wheelchairs and dragged out of their senator’s Denver office, all while chanting “rather go to jail than die without Medicaid!” About a week later, more “health care for all” activists were arrested for refusing to leave that same office. And here in the Springs, activists formerly with the group Colorado Springs Action Network (COS CAN) are headed to trial on trespassing charges stemming from a July 18 visit to Gardner’s local office. If convicted, they could face jail time up to 189 days and/or fines up to $2,500.
The three defendants stand by their actions, insisting prosecutors with the city attorney’s office are taking too punitive an approach to a peaceful protest. And, in a twist, it seems Gardner may agree with them. The senator apparently asked Colorado Springs’ City Attorney Wynetta Massey’s office to dismiss their charges, as he did for at least five of the arrestees in Denver. Denver’s city attorney heeded the request, but the Springs’ city attorney, who declined to comment on the pending criminal case per city spokesperson Kim Melchor, has chosen to press charges…
As we’ve opined already about these cases, dropping the charges is in the best political interests of Sen. Gardner first and foremost. In a situation were protesters are committing civil disobedience for the express purpose of gaining attention via arrest and prosecution, prosecution only plays into protesters’ hands. There’s no question that the images of protesters being violently dragged out of Gardner’s Denver office did lasting damage to Gardner’s image–which is why Gardner asked the Denver city attorney to drop all charges against them.
But in Colorado Springs, by God, they’re going to teach those hippies a lesson!
Their counterparts to the north, who were charged with trespassing in similar circumstances, had their case dismissed at Gardner’s behest. So, what makes this case different? Over a dozen calls and emails to Gardner’s Colorado Springs, Denver and Washington, D.C., offices went unreturned, but a recorded conversation provided to the Indy by one of the defendants, Candi Frank, seems to confirm that Gardner’s people at least tried. In the audio recording, which captures a meeting that followed a Sept. 11 court appearance, Frank can be heard asking the prosecutor, who had just proposed a plea deal, “As I understood it, Sen. Gardner was requesting charges be dropped…?” A voice apparently of the prosecutor, Shantel Withrow, replies, “Yes, he did request that charges be dropped, but in reviewing the case, there is a violation of law that occurred and my office is the one that makes the ultimate decision.”
It’s not Gardner fault that the Colorado Springs city attorney is refusing to drop the charges, but he’s still the one who owns the consequences. The swiftest way out of the bad press Gardner has earned over these protests is to make the underlying cases go away, as happened in Denver. There’s no deterrent value in prosecuting individuals engaged in a political protest, in fact if anything it’s more likely to have the opposite effect. And if the Colorado Springs City Attorney thinks there is deterrent value in prosecuting nonviolent protesters that other jurisdictions dismissed, that invites another discussion entirely.
We’d say the Senator ought to try again.