Health Care Protesters ‘Would Rather Go To Jail Than Die’

By Andrea Flores

DENVER (CBS4) – Kalyn Heffernan made it to sound check with her band, Wheelchair Sports Camp, at Denver’s Bluebird Theatre less thatn 24 hours after being released from jail.

“[I] would rather go to jail than die without Medicaid,”Heffernan said.

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Wheelchair Sports Camp (credit: CBS)

She’s one of 10 mostly disabled protesters arrested Thursday night after staging a sit-in at Senator Cory Gardner’s office.

“We did everything we could to get him to commit to vote ‘no’ on any kind of health bill that was going to strip our Medicaid services, most especially for long-term care and independent living,”Heffernan said. “We weren’t leaving until we got a ‘no.'”

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(credit: Facebook)

Protesters stayed in Gardner’s office for 58 hours.

“Cory Gardner’s staff, [and the] state director, said we had to leave [because we were] in violation of the building, that we were trespassing, and if we did not leave, we would be arrested,” Heffernan said. “We complied with all the rules to stay out of the hallway, to be respectful, and not to be loud.”

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Kalyn Heffernan (credit: CBS)

Denver police eventually forced protesters out.

“Cory Gardner’s staff, from what I understand, signed something that was giving them permission to arrest us in his office,” explained Heffernan. “I think it was a pretty calculated plan to get us out of there.”

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(credit: CBS)

They later sat in a Denver jail for 30 hours. Heffernan was released after 1 a.m. Saturday morning.

“It [was] freezing cold,” Heffernan recalled. “We didn’t get our own cells and a place to sleep for 16 hours.”

The Denver County Sheriff’s Department released the following statement:

“Keeping Denver’s communities safe is of utmost importance to the DSD. Senator Gardner’s office filed trespassing charges against several protesters on Thursday night. Denver Police are obligated to enforce the law and the Denver Sheriff’s Department subsequently received nine individuals into custody. The individuals were processed through personal recognizance bonds issued by the courts on Friday afternoon and the last individual was released from the Downtown Detention Facility (DDC) at 2:10 a.m. on Saturday. Sheriff Deputies and medical staff worked at all levels to ensure everyone’s safety while maintaining the integrity of the process. At the time protesters were received there were already 42 individuals awaiting processing. From the time protesters were received into custody until released, there were approximately 181 individuals processed into the facility and a total of 130 individuals released. Sheriff Firman, along with other leadership, was present at the jail to speak with supporters waiting outside the jail. We appreciate the patience of those offering support while awaiting the release of the individuals during a very busy time filled with both anticipated and unanticipated delays.”

Ten protesters face trespassing charges. Three of them also face charges of interference with police.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger spoke with Denver Police. They insist that Senator Gardner’s Regional Director called police to have protesters removed Thursday night.

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(credit: Facebook)

Gardner’s press secretary tells CBS4 they did not call police, but that police made them sign something that indicated the protesters could be removed. The secretary also said they would be in violation of their lease with the building owners if they did not agree.

Heffernan says the stint in jail won’t stop them from putting pressure on the senator.

“We need [Gardner] to stand up for the disabled people in the state of Colorado. We need these services. It’s life or death for us.”

CBS4 reached out to Gardner’s office for a comment Saturday afternoon. At the time the story aired, a request for comment had not been returned.

Andrea Flores is a reporter for CBS4. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AndreaFloresTV.

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