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Occupy MN protesters defy Hennepin County orders; ACLU threatens lawsuit [UPDATE]

The occupiers are refusing to move from in front of a sign.
The occupiers are refusing to move from in front of a sign.

This morning, Hennepin County maintenance removed all of Occupy MN protesters' signs from Government Plaza. Just before noon, however, a small contingent of the occupiers started putting them back up.

Now, seven occupiers have linked arms in front of signs and are preventing sheriff's deputies and security from removing them. They've been threatened with arrest.

"More signs!" they chanted, as other protesters began hanging signs from light poles.

Hennepin County administrators ordered on Monday that, as a provision of their winterization of the plaza, all Occupy MN possessions must be consolidated and no signs would be allowed to be hung.

Yesterday, the Minnesota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Sheriff Rich Stanek and County Administrator Richard Johnson warning that they may be setting themselves up for a lawsuit.

"Although we do not currently represent OccupyMN, we are concerned that these new restrictions do not comport with the First Amendment standards and respectfully request that you rescind them," the letter reads.

Read the whole letter here.

Last night, Occupy MN's general assembly voted to allow the ACLU to represent them in potential litigation. They also began hanging as many signs as possible from the plaza light poles and planters in preparation for this morning's clean up.

Although all signs came down without incident in the early morning hours, this afternoon protesters began putting them back up. When a county security guard attempted to take one off a planter, a protester dove in front of him, and refused to move. He was threatened with arrest.

Before long, seven occupiers linked arms around the planter, and other protesters began covering them in signs, including ones that say "Stanek 2012: Champions of the First Amendment" and "We are the 99%."

Among them is Ben Egerman, who was arrested at another demonstration a couple weeks ago for refusing to get out of the street in front of US Bank plaza.

"I promised my dad I wouldn't get arrested again until my next hearing," he said. "My hearing was yesterday."

For now, it appears that the security officers and deputies have backed off. We'll update as the situation continues to develop.

Update: At about 1 p.m., protesters were notified that they will not be arrested. The seven jubilantly busted out of what had grown to a thick layer of tape and signs screaming, "We won! We won!" 

Egerman says that the sheriff's deputies and security are still watching them from the tall staircase outside the Government Center, but that they are going to continue putting up signs all afternoon.

"I think if we have enough people, they're really scared. They're scared of having the same situation," he says. "They stood down."

Nick Espinosa, another Occupy MN organizer, says if any attempt is made to remove the signs, they will risk arrest again.

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