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Melissa Hill settles lawsuit against Sheriff Richard Stanek for $15,000

Occupy MN's first arrest has resulted in its first financial settlement.

Melissa Hill, a well-known local activist and "Kitten for Sheriff" founder, sued Sheriff Richard Stanek after he had her trespassed from the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza and then arrested for attending an Occupy MN rally there.

Now, as a result of the lawsuit, the county is paying Hill a tidy sum and changing its trespassing policy.

On October 13, while at an Occupy MN event, Hill was given a notice of trespass by a security officer, barring her from the Government Center plaza. The ban was supposed to be in effect for a year. It seems to stem from political slogans Hill had written on the plaza in chalk.

Two days later, Hill was standing on the sidewalk just outside of the plaza during a tent-building action. She was there as a "legal observer" when she was approached by Hennepin County security officers and told that she was violating her trespassing order. She was arrested, the first of many Occupy MN protesters to spend the night in jail.

Hill in cuffs back in October.
Hill in cuffs back in October.

Since then, other occupiers have also received similar trespass notices.

Hill sued Sheriff Stanek and the officers who arrested her in early December. The filing claimed that Hill was never told what crime had earned her the order in the first place, and that it violated her freedom of speech. It also said that her inability to contest the trespass was a violation of due process.

Hill agreed dismiss the complaint against Stanek and the officers, in order to settle with Hennepin County. The provisions just went into effect. As of now, Hill's trespassing order has been lifted. She will collect a lump sum of $15,000. And the trespassing process has changed -- now, if the county wants someone barred from the property for longer than 45 days, that person can appeal and must get a hearing within 10 days. If the hearing official agrees with the trespass order, they must issue a written decision justifying their action.

Hill says she's pleased with the settlement mainly because it allows her to go to the government center for non-Occupy business -- to the courts, DMV, and the like.

"When they were issuing those against people at Occupy MN it inconveniences people," says Hill. "Trespassing someone for three days is one thing, but trespassing someone for 365 days -- it's a whole other issue."

The one issue she couldn't get the county to budge on is the sidewalk chalking. She's agreed to cut it out.

"They don't like chalking at all," she says.

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