COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Columbus Police have arrested 16 people who were protesting at Sen. Rob Portman’s office in downtown Columbus.
According to witnesses, protesters were trying to get the attention of Senator Portman, but they refused to leave the building’s lobby when ordered to do so by police. Officers say the protesters prevented Columbus Division of Fire medics from being able to quickly reach a person inside who was suffering chest pains.
After finally getting to the location Columbus Division of Fire was called to, they were unable to find anyone in need of help.
In the meantime, several protestors were detained for criminal trespassing at the Huntington Plaza building.
The protesters were asking Senator Portman to vote no on the Senate’s new health care bill. They claim the bill would take away coverage from those who have the most need.
“We wanted him to understand you know who the people are that are receiving the Medicaid services that are about to go away,” said Kim Kelly, one of the protestors in his office at the time.
The demonstration was organized by disability rights groups ADAPT.
Portman’s press secretary issued the following statement:
Rob welcomes input from all 11.5 million Ohioans who are able to visit or call any of our offices to discuss any topic. Yesterday, we met with protesters from the Democratic Socialists of America, and after they refused to leave even when the buildings closed, we allowed them to stay the night. Our staff spoke with them again today. We aren’t going to allow a handful of Socialists, many of whom are from New York to disrupt our ability to serve the needs of the Ohio constituents who contact us in need of vital services every day. When the groups impeded the work of other tenants in the building, building security called local law enforcement.
Kelly says, that statement doesn’t reflect the kind of communication the office had with her that day.
“[Portman’s Press Secretary] kept saying, “Oh, he holds hundreds of meetings all over the state,” where are those meetings and where can we find the schedule so that we know when to show up?” said Kelly. “She said that they don’t publish them because it’s a safety issue for the senator.”
Another protestor, who had been in Portman’s office the day before and at the protest since noon on Thursday, had this to say about the statement.
“At no time from noon [Thursday] throughout the day were there anybody representing DSA or anyone affiliated with DSA who was inside the office or spoke with a representative from Portman’s office,” said Atticus Garden the campaign coordinator for Yes We Can Columbus.
Columbus police say the actions taken by officers in the lobby were standard procedure.
“If the police ask you to leave, you’re blocking the path for fire and medic, if we have to push you out of your wheelchair, then that’s what we’ll have to do,” said Lt. Dan Hargus.
Hargus says once the lobby was cleared, they told protesters three times to leave the property or they would be arrested.
15 people refused, all of them were from out of state.
Because it is the policy of the CPD not to issue summons to people from out of state on misdemeanor crimes, they were arrested.
Hargus says, all 15 cooperated with police and have been cordial since being taken into custody.
He also says it has been logistically difficult transporting and booking so many confined to wheelchairs.
Meanwhile, watching the protestors being taken away and hearing from other who were not that the protest ended with police getting physical upset Kelly.
“I’m really saddened because we’ve made so many gains over the years about you know Medicaid and benefits for people with disabilities and now it’s all about to come crashing down because a bunch of bureaucrats are sitting up in their ivory towers not living the life that we live,” said Kelly