MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – A Minnesota woman claims in Federal Court that her community forced her to remove signs in her yard supporting Occupy Wall Street, while allowing others to publicize their support for the troops or other causes.
Robin Hensel, a 58-year-old grandmother living in Little Falls, says the trouble started in September 2011 when she placed signs in her yard expressing support for the Occupy Wall Street movement and other causes.
After the village received a complaint because of “disagreement with her political viewpoint, it ordered Hensel in November to remove all “illegal” signs from her yard, threatening fines if she did not comply, according to the complaint.
Hensel filed her lawsuit with Paladin Law attorney Larry Frost, but she says she first tried to get creative to comply with the city ordinance under which she was cited.
“Plaintiff does not have the wealth to hire an attorney,” the complaint states. “Seeing that the city ordinance generously allowed ‘temporary seasonal or religious displays which conform to Minnesota department of transportation safety standards,’ Ms. Hensel added seasonal motifs to her signs to conform to this clause of the city’s ordinance, because and only because she had no other way to fight City Hall.
“The result was the city’s letter of November 28th 2011, notifying Ms. Hensel that the city grudgingly admitted some of her signs were now legal – through the end of the ‘holiday season’, however defined,” according to the complaint. “In that letter, city acknowledged numerous conversations with Plaintiff in which plaintiff had specifically raised her right to free speech on her own property. The letter ended on this threatening note:
‘The police department has a copy of this letter. You have until 12:00 noon, Monday, December 5th, to remove the illegal signs on your property or the Police will be issuing a ticket.'”
After she was ordered to remove her signs, Hensel allegedly “surveyed City and found numerous other signs violating the ordinances.” She says she filed complaints against these signs.
Thee months after filing the complaints, the “city has outright refused to act on said complaints, although on information and belief it acted on the complaint against Ms. Hensel in a matter of days or less because of hostility towards her political viewpoints,” according to the complaint.
Little Falls is located near the largest military base in Minnesota, Camp Ripley, and many of the residents have connections there, according to the complaint, which describes the base as “a location where troops are trained before leaving for Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and to which troops return after their deployments.”
Hensel says the complaints she filed caused her to received “credible on-line threats of physical violence, and stirred a great deal of local anger, largely because one of the illegally-posted signs against which filed a complaint said ‘Support Our Troops.'”
Nonetheless, Hensel says Little Falls has failed to enforce its ordinances equally, and refuses to enforce its own ordinances when complaints are made “under their allegedly complaint-driven system against viewpoints defendants applaud.”
The community has since taken to retaliating against her in other ways, according to the complaint.
Hensel says she tried to install a bench on city property under an ordinance that provides for a general license for citizens to place benches on public or private property.
“Said benches are specifically intended to have speech on them in the form of signs,” according to the complaint. “City has established a single, monopoly agent authorized to build and install said benches, and City receives 1/12th of the income from said benches. City determines the amount of the fee charged for the benches.”
But Little Falls allegedly refused to rent a bench to Hensel after she “specifically informed city, through its agents and/or officers, that she intended to place said bench in front of City Hall, and that the content of the signage on said bench would be critical of City.”
Hensel also says that Little Falls denied her request to conduct an Occupy-style demonstration in a city park.
She seeks a judgment declaring the city ordinance unconstitutional, and damages for violations of the First Amendment. The lawsuit names the city of Little Falls, Little Falls Police Chief Greg Schirmers, and co-city administrators, Gerald Lochner and Lori Kasella, as defendants.