A woman who was charged with trespassing during the Occupy Minnesota demonstrations last year will be paid $15,000 by Hennepin County as part of a lawsuit settlement that also changes the county's trespassing appeal policy.
Melissa Lynn Hill was issued a trespass notice on Oct. 13 for writing slogans in chalk on Hennepin County Government Center plaza. The county barred her from the plaza and Government Center property for a year.Two days later, while serving as a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild, she was arrested by a deputy sheriff while she was standing on the sidewalk adjacent to the plaza, Hill later alleged in a federal lawsuit.
Her attorney, Jordan Kushner, sued Sheriff Rich Stanek, two deputies, a security officer, the county, and others associated with the county, alleging the county had violated due process and other Constitutional rights. Under a settlement dated Jan. 20 and first reported on the City Pages blog Wednesday, Hill may go onto Hennepin County property again. Hill agreed not to write in chalk “or otherwise deface county property.”
"The county has changed its policy to provide more due process for people who want to challenge decisions that ban them from t he county," Kushner said. "Previously if someone had a problem they could write a letter to the security manager." The new policy allows for a hearing before the director of property services, or a designee, Kushner said.
"I feel I was vindicated," said Hill, 33, a records clerk at a law firm who lives in Minneapolis. "I was arrested on a public sidewalk. This sends a strong message that they can't be misusing their trespass policy to suppress free speech."
Occupy Minnesota protesters have claimed that the county had used trespass notices to drive them off Government Plaza, which the county denied. The demonstrators set up a small tent village on the plaza, but the county eventually pushed it out, backed up by a federal court decision.
But Minnesota’s falling mercury and winter precipitation may have had more to do with ending the occupation. The plaza is empty of protesters these days, although occasional demonstrations begin on the plaza or the skyway near it, and head elsewhere in the city.