DA McCann Signals No Charges For Protestors Who Delayed Polis’ State Of The State

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Environmental activists drop a banner from the House gallery before Gov. Jared Polis’ State of the State address, Jan. 9, 2020.

There will be no charges pressed against the 33 climate protesters arrested for disruptions ahead of Gov. Polis’ State of the State address.

The announcement from Denver District Attorney Beth McCann came as a huge relief to the activists. The protestors, most of whom belong to Extinction Rebellion or the Colorado Sunrise Movement, spent more than a day in jail after singing in the Capitol lobby and dropping banners from the gallery of the House chamber. 

The dismissal of charges guarantees they won’t face any further punishment.

“The point was needed to be made: you can’t disrupt an ongoing assembly,” McCann said. “But I didn’t feel any further prosecution would be warranted” 

The decision is unlikely to quiet the activists, though.

In statements following the announcement, the protestors reiterated many of the same demands they expressed inside the Capitol. The groups have pushed the state to declare a climate emergency, phase out all oil and gas extraction and end hydraulic fracturing near Greeley’s Bella Romero Academy. 

“Colorado Democrats are not doing enough to ensure a safe and habitable future for us all,” wrote Jack Tangel, a 21-year-old with the Sunrise Movement. “Dropping the charges is important in allowing freedom of speech and democracy to flow, but we need to see more climate action immediately from those in power.” 

The protests began when one activist tried to read a statement in the House. State patrol officers quickly arrested her and other protestors, one of whom had superglued his hands around a banister overlooking lawmakers. 

A few minutes later, members of the Sunrise Movement and other activists began singing in the lobby. According to videos posted on social media, the protestors obeyed when officers asked them to leave the building. Many were surprised to be arrested by the Denver police after they exited. 

Eighteen-year-old Cy Robinson, who was arrested along with the other singers, was elated to hear he didn’t need to fear fines or prison time. He added it was good news for Colorado’s growing climate movement. 

“If the charges are being dropped, that means they might be more lenient toward this type of stuff in the future,” he said. 

McCann worried a dismissal could embolden protestors, which is why she has warned the activists against any future actions. 

“If you continue to disrupt criminal proceedings, we’re going to look at potential criminal charges,” she said. “The legislature has to be able to complete its business.” 

Gov. Polis declined to comment on McCann’s decision. In an earlier interview with CPR’s Colorado Matters, he said it is “absolutely terrific” for people to get involved in the political system, but questioned the protesters' methods. 

“I don't know whether those tactics always work. I mean, honestly, sometimes they backfire and they alienate the legislators whose votes they need,” Polis said.