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Politics and Government

Denver DA won’t prosecute 33 climate protesters arrested before Gov. Polis’ State of the State speech

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann's office says the Democrat met with the Colorado State Patrol and with the Denver Police Department in making her decision. The protesters were calling for action to fight climate change.

Members of the Colorado State Patrol work to remove one protestor from the balcony of the house chambers just before Gov. Jared Polis entered to deliver his second State of the State address at the state Capitol on Jan. 9, 2020 in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, The Colorado Sun)
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Denver prosecutors on Thursday said they will seek the dismissal of charges for 33 people arrested for protesting before Gov. Jared Polis’ State of the State speech earlier this month.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann’s office says the met with the Colorado State Patrol and with the Denver Police Department before making her decision. McCann, a Democrat, is a former state lawmaker.

The protesters were calling for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, in Colorado and for more action to battle climate change. One man super glued his hands together around a banister and had to be forcibly removed from the Colorado House chamber.

“I support and appreciate peoples’ First Amendment right to protest and express their opinions; however, they cannot disrupt official proceedings inside the state capitol,” McCann said in a written statement. “Since most of these climate change activists spent a night in jail, I’ve concluded that prosecuting them further for criminal conduct is not warranted given all of the circumstances.”

She added: “I strongly urge these protesters to work with their elected officials to affect the change they seek and warn them that if they engage in future actions that disrupt official state business, criminal charges will be considered.”

Protestors begin yelling and dropping banners just before Gov. Jared Polis entered the room as Polis was scheduled to deliver his second State of the State address in the House chambers at the state Capitol on Jan. 9, 2020 in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The protesters were charged with disrupting a meeting in a public meeting, disrupting a peace officer and disrupting a lawful assembly. They faced up to a year in jail if found guilty.

There were also five juveniles protesters arrested, but their charges were dismissed earlier.

The arrests became a political football at the Colorado Capitol and beyond.

State Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, in a speech on the House floor, urged prosecutors to rethink the charges, saying they could have a chilling effect on civic engagement and civil disobedience. He also condemned how the protesters were treated.

“When you’re arrested, it’s not like you walk into a building,” Singer said. “You’re disrobed. You are viewed by other folks. This is about making sure people feel safe in (the Capitol).”

Republicans in the Colorado House argued that the demonstrators, who included members of the groups Sunrise Movement’s Colorado branch and Extinction Rebellion’s Denver chapter, should face criminal sanctions.

MORE: Gov. Jared Polis wants to go even bigger in 2020. Here’s his State of the State address, annotated.

“That is not a productive conversation,” said Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton. “That was an attempt to read a manifesto. It is not an invitation for debate. It is not an elevation of public discourse. It is a continuation of a conflict culture whereby political points are scored by screaming louder that the other person.”

Larson cautioned lawmakers against encouraging “that kind of behavior.”

Former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and has been endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, took to Twitter to ask that the charges be dropped.

Even U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate, urged for the the protesters not to face charges.

“Young people showing the courage to lead the fight against a climate disaster when many of our leaders won’t lift a finger,” he tweeted. “They do not deserve to be arrested — they deserve to be applauded and heard.”

After his speech, Polis told reporters that he doesn’t support a ban on fracking.

“I think that people being involved and active is absolutely terrific,” he said of the protesters during an interview with Colorado Public Radio. “Sometimes activists want to get arrested to help get more publicity and that is a tactic that has a long precedent in American history.”

He added: “I don’t know whether those tactics always work. Honestly, sometimes they backfire and they alienate the legislators whose votes they need.”

Polis said, however, that the protesters didn’t bother him. He joked to CPR that being from Boulder he’s used to it and has experienced worse.

Rising Sun