Police arrested a group of disabled protesters on Thursday evening who had spent three days camped out in Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's Denver office, demanding that he pledge to oppose the GOP's health care plan.
Police spokeswoman Marika Putnam said 10 protesters were arrested without incident after they were told to leave. Video the protesters live-streamed showed them chanting "Rather go to jail than to die without Medicaid" as police moved in.
Gardner's staffers stayed overnight in the office building to avoid arrests the first two nights, and the senator's state director had met with the activists earlier Thursday. But the senator's office said building management became concerned and wanted the protesters removed.
"The top priority throughout this protest has been allowing these individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights in a safe environment," Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano said. "At the request of the building, Denver police were forced to remove them earlier this evening due to several factors, including serious concerns for their health and safety."
Some of the activists had severe conditions. Janine Bertram of ADAPT, which organized the Denver protests and others around the country, said police spent a long time trying to arrest one demonstrator because they were trying to figure out how to detain her without shutting off her ventilator, which she needs to breathe.
Images of wheelchair-bound activists being dragged from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office last week helped galvanize activists against the Senate health bill, which McConnell pulled on Tuesday because it did not have sufficient Republican support.
Disabled activists said the legislation threatens their very lives because its heavy Medicaid cuts would inevitably end the services that help them live independently and work.
Josh Winkler, one of the activists who spent time in Gardner's office, said in an interview Wednesday that the bill's Medicaid cuts would force states to cut back spending on the program, including home-care help for the disabled.
"States can easily, easily cut those programs, forcing us into institutions or letting a lot of us die," said Winkler, 36.