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Occupy Minnesota protester gets $15K in trespass lawsuit

  • Article by: RANDY FURST
  • Star Tribune
  • February 1, 2012 - 8:41 PM

A Minneapolis 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 Oct. 13 for writing slogans in chalk on the 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 a sidewalk adjacent to the plaza, Hill 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 that Hill's due process and other constitutional rights were violated.

Under a settlement dated Jan. 20, 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 the 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.

All defendants, including Stanek, were dismissed from the case as part of the settlement, Kushner added.

"I feel I was vindicated," said Hill, 33, a records clerk at a law firm.

"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 used trespass notices to drive them off the Government Center 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.

These days, occasional demonstrations begin on the plaza or a skyway near it and head elsewhere in the city.

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