Minneapolis anti-war activist settles lawsuit over sidewalk chalk

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October 8, 2013
By: Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson

Melissa Hill, a Minneapolis anti-war activist, has settled a lawsuit against the Federal Protective Service (FPS), Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and DECO Security Services after the parties agreed that writing on a public sidewalk with erasable chalk does not constitute as trespassing.

As part of the settlement the MPD, the FPS, and DECO will be instituting new policies and training to educate its employees on citizens’ First and Fourth Amendment rights. The three parties will also pay a combined $5,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented Hill in court.

“What I really wanted was to make it clear that chalking isn’t a crime in the city of Minneapolis,” said Hill. “I’m happy that they will be applying new policies to make sure that other people that might be chalking on public sidewalks aren’t going to get harassed in the future.”

On June 9, 2011, Hill, 34, was handcuffed, searched, detained and questioned by three DECO security guards after they caught her writing ‘Don’t enlist, resist’ on a public sidewalk outside of the Federal Building.

A Minneapolis police officer was called and Hill was issued a Notice of Trespass, banning her from the Federal Building for one year. If violated, Hill faced a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail.

"As a city we're very respectful of people's First Amendment rights and are happy to do additional training in these kinds of cases," said Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal.

Hill settled a similar case against Hennepin County in January 2012 over chalking and later being arrested for trespassing in the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza. In that settlement the county agreed to pay her $15,000 and modify its trespassing policies.