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Keep out of police area

Published (3/13/2009)
By Mike Cook
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When the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed, authorities struggled to keep gawkers and a few entrepreneurs away from the site.

However, when it came time to charge people who would not obey police orders to leave, there were not appropriate charges in some cases.

“Even though you might think that the trespassing statute would apply to cases of that nature, in fact, there was no appropriate provision within the trespass statue that applied,” said Dana Banwer, assistant Minneapolis City Attorney in the Civil Division.

“Many of these people were actually charged, but we had to get a little bit creative, along with the police department, and we ended up charging individuals with things like obstructing legal process,” she said. “We saw many charges that resulted from failure to obey a lawful order of a police officer. … (That statute) only applies to individuals who are in vehicles. Bicycles are included under that definition.”

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), HF1264 would expand the trespass crime to include areas cordoned off “through the use of tape, barriers or other means conspicuously placed and identifying the area as being restricted by the police.”

The House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee held the bill over March 10 for possible omnibus bill inclusion. A companion, SF1236, sponsored by Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Minneapolis Police Department Inspector Kris Arneson said the bridge site was first cordoned off as a crime scene area because of the uncertainty as to why the collapse happened.

People who crossed the line included souvenir seekers and investigators for attorneys. “One person was even selling consulting services,” she said. “There was a man trying to sell sonar services for recovery under water.”

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Wabasha) questioned what the phrase “other means conspicuously placed” referenced.

Banwer and Arneson said it would most likely be crime scene tape around a site, but in a larger area like the bridge collapse, it could be sawhorses, cones or squad cars.

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