Is Flipping Off the Cops an Arrestable Offense?

( – A Vermont man is under arrest for disorderly conduct after flipping off a State Trooper after a traffic stop. Dashcam footage reportedly shows Gregory Bombard of Saint Albans, Vermont, displaying his middle finger and yelling expletives at the Trooper. Bombard was initially pulled over on suspicion of flipping off the Trooper, and he apparently doubled down on the gesture to express his frustration at being pulled over for expressing himself in the first place. He reportedly asked the Trooper, “What’s the crime?”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) acquired and released the dashcam footage and are representing Bombard in his suit against the Trooper and the State of Vermont for violating his First Amendment Rights, citing the importance of citizens to be safe and have their civil liberties protected.

Both FIRE and the ACLU contend that the police have no constitutional basis to detain someone or to suspect them of wrongdoing simply for swearing at them or displaying the middle finger. In 2013, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled favorably for a New York man suing the police for being arrested after flipping off a cop. The court upheld that an insulting gesture is not “the basis for a reasonable suspicion” of unlawful activity.

Other courts around the country have upheld similar judgments in favor of defendants and litigants arrested for rude gestures or offensive speech. A Minnesota police officer was denied immunity after arresting a man for flipping her off in 2021. In 1997, the 6th Circuit court upheld the right to yell expletives and flip off a police officer from a moving vehicle.

Courts have been clear over many cases for decades that non-threatening speech directed at government officials, even if unpleasant, or offensive, is protected under the First Amendment.

The disorderly conduct charges against Bombard have since been dropped, but only after Bombard went through nearly a year of legal expenses and court appearances.

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