The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota on Tuesday accused Hennepin County of using a back-door approach to try to end the occupation by protesters of the County Government Center plaza by issuing a rash of trespass notices in the last several days. The county administrator denied such tactics.
Chuck Samuelson, state ACLU executive director, said ACLU attorneys will appear before U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle at 1 p.m. Wednesday to ask for a temporary restraining order in an attempt to halt the practice.
Samuelson said the county security staff has issued nine trespass notices in recent days. If those protesters return to the plaza within 90 days, they could be arrested, he said.
The ACLU sued Monday to stop the county from evicting the protesters, but the suit was drafted before the ACLU knew that the trespass notices were being used more frequently, Samuelson said.
County Administrator Richard Johnson denied the county was using the notices to shut down OccupyMN protests. "We have issued a number of trespass notices, but it is based on the actions of the individuals. It has nothing to do with the lawsuit," Johnson said.
He said that since Oct. 7, when the protests on the plaza began, his security staff has issued 24 trespass notices, including nine since Nov. 19.
"One of those involved six trespass notices in a physical altercation between three intoxicated males we think were coming from the Vikings game and three demonstrators," he said. "Of the remaining three, two were for indecent conduct, and the other was for repeated warnings of smoking on the property."
Samuelson said one of the four lawsuit plaintiffs has been issued a trespass notice in the last several days for writing on the plaza in chalk. Johnson disputed the claim.
Prohibitions against smoking or using chalk on the plaza are rules, not ordinances. If the protesters who got notices are later arrested, it would be for trespass because they returned to the plaza.
Samuelson alleged the county was taking the trespass approach to avoid the physical confrontations that have garnered bad publicity for police across the country.
Also on Tuesday, a protester was hospitalized after showing signs of hypothermia, with the temperature hovering around 36 degrees.
According to an incident report, a county security officer was told shortly after 1 a.m. that the man, 24, appeared to need medical attention. The officer found demonstrators trying to wrap the Minneapolis man in blankets. He was shivering and hard to understand, the officer reported, but he said his health history included heart surgery. Paramedics were summoned and took him to Hennepin County Medical Center. He was later released.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Randy Furst • 612-673-4224