Tear gas deployed as protesters bang on Senate doors; GOP likens event to insurrection

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Law enforcement officers deployed several canisters of tear gas against abortion-rights protesters after some began banging against the doors of the Arizona Senate building Friday evening.

Senate President Karen Fann abruptly called a recess to Senate work and evacuated lawmakers and staff to the Senate basement.

"We have a security threat outside," Fann said, trying to hurry along a handful of public-school supporters who had unfurled a banner expressing their disgust with the Senate's approval of universal vouchers earlier in the evening.

The canisters were deployed at about 8:30 p.m. from the second floor of the building, and hundreds of protesters immediately scattered and retreated as the gas pervaded the state Capitol grounds.

No arrests were made, the Arizona Department of Public Safety reported Saturday.

Shortly after, law enforcement officers in SWAT gear lined up from the state Capitol and advanced toward the remaining protesters who had gathered at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza.

One officer on a megaphone declared an unlawful assembly and ordered those protesters to leave the area. Some protesters remained while shouting expletives at law enforcement but eventually fled when officers fired additional tear-gas canisters.

Phoenix police soon blocked off vehicle access to the state Capitol as protesters could be seen walking away from the area on foot.

After the protesters had largely dispersed, one person broke a window at the state Department of Agriculture building on Adams Street, while others booed the person for doing so.

Clouds of tear gas lingered heavily in the courtyard between the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives buildings, preventing anyone from entering the area.

Samantha McClintock, 26, and Ryan Wullf, 31, both of Phoenix, arrived late to the Roe v. Wade ruling protest and were in the crowd that was hit with tear gas. They said a crowd had gathered between the House and Senate buildings and some protesters were banging on the glass doors and windows of the Senate. They didn't know the Arizona Legislature was in session at the time.

By 9:30 p.m., crowds had left the area after police declared an unlawful assembly.

The lingering tear gas in the chamber forced the Senate to finish its session in a first-floor hearing room where the air was not so irritating.

After most people had left the area, a black tennis shoe was left behind in a lane on Adams Street. The words "Abort the f------ court!" were spray-painted onto a barricade meant to keep cars out of a plaza across from the Capitol.

Fann called it "a blatant attempt at an insurrection."

Kim Quintero, a spokesperson for the Arizona Senate Republicans, issued a news release late Friday evening. It drew comparisons to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and praised law enforcement officials for preventing entry.

"While Arizona State Senate members were wrapping up passing important legislation for the session, extremist demonstrators made their way to the entrance of the Senate building and began forcibly trying to make entry by breaking windows and pushing down doors," the statement said.

Quintero said the Senate gallery had been open to the public during the legislative session. When a Republic reporter asked Quintero whether the building was open to the public as the Senate conducted its business, she responded that the gallery was open but law enforcement had an increased presence in anticipation of protesters.

When the reporter asked for the criteria Quintero used when labeling the event as an insurrection, she accused the reporter of creating a "fake narrative."

"We locked the building when protestors started advancing," Quintero said in an emailed response. "When the building was locked, the protesters tried to forcibly enter."

Includes information from Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl. Reach the reporter Perry Vandell at 602-444-2474 or perry.vandell@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @PerryVandell.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Officers deploy tear gas as protesters bang on Arizona Senate doors