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ACLU files First Amendment lawsuit against state on behalf of activist Melissa Hill

With the help of some legal heavy-hitters, Melissa Hill hopes to make the Federal Protective Services, state of Minnesota, and city of Minneapolis pay for her sidewalk chalking-related June arrest.

Hill was detained and issued a trespass order for "damaging public property" while inscribing an anti-war message onto a sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve Building. Today, the ACLU and attorneys from Dorsey & Whitney filed a lawsuit alleging the incident violated her First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Said ACLU-Minnesota Executive Director Charles Samuelson: "This is a classic example of overreach of law enforcement. Ms. Hill was simply exercising her freedom of speech when she was subject to harassment and punishment by the law enforcement agencies involved in this matter."

Hill, 33, was walking to work last June when she noticed a sidewalk chalk message that had once read "Resist, Don't Enlist" had been altered so as to only read "Enlist." She stopped to try and restore the original message, but was interrupted when FPS and police officers handcuffed, detained, searched, and questioned her.

After being detained, she was issued a trespass notice banning her from Federal Building property for a year. As an ACLU press release puts it, "If Hill decides to exercise her First Amendment rights in public in the vicinity of the Federal Building she would be arrested and face a fine and/or imprisonment."

Law enforcement justified Hill's detention by saying she was damaging public property with the chalk, but she was never charged with a crime. Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the ACLU, said she thinks it's interesting law enforcement officials had no objection to the sidewalk chalk when it read "Enlist," but felt compelled to stop Hill when she tried to restore the original anti-war message.

According to the ACLU, the complaint states that the defendants acted unlawfully by detaining Hill without probable cause and by issuing a trespass notice against her without legal justification. Hill is asking for undisclosed damages and a declaration that the trespass ordinances under which she was detained are unconstitutional.

Hill filed a separate trespassing-related lawsuit against Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek following an October arrest during Occupy MN demonstrations. In January, she settled that lawsuit for $15,000.

Related coverage:
-- Melissa Hill settles lawsuit against Sheriff Richard Stanek for $15,000
-- Occupy MN: Melissa Hill sues Sheriff Richard Stanek over trespassing arrest
-- Occupy MN: Melissa Hill arrested by Hennepin County Sheriff's deputies [VIDEO]


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