Man arrested after flipping Vermont officer the bird wins $175,000 in free-speech suit

A Vermont man who filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated during a traffic stop six years ago has won.

Vermont resident Gregory Bombard settled his case with the Vermont State Police for $175,000 this week, the American Civil Liberties Union reported in a tweet published Wednesday morning.

Look:

As previously reported, Bombard was driving through his hometown of St. Albans on Feb. 9th, 2018, when he was pulled over by Vermont State Trooper Jay Riggen for allegedly flipping him off.

At first, Bombard denied flipping off the officer, and to his credit, the officer believed him and let him drive off. But while driving off, Bombard flipped him off again and loudly called him an a-hole.

Riggen did not take kindly to this.

Watch what happened below:

(Video Credit: FIRE)

Furious, Riggen pulled him over again and arrested him for disorderly conduct, after which Bombard was handcuffed, searched, thrown in the back of a police car, taken to jail, and forced to have both his mugshot and fingerprints taken for the record.

As for Bombard’s car, it was towed because he’d pulled over into a “no parking” zone.

At one point during the altercation, Bombard threatened to file a complaint against Riggen.

“If someone flipped you off, what is the citation? What’s the crime? That would be considered freedom of expression, so I’m going to file a complaint against you,” he said.

He definitely meant it. Years after the incident, he picked up representation from the ACLU of Vermont.

According to the suit, a prosecutor tried twice to charge him with disorderly conduct, both both times the case was dismissed.

While the suit was originally filed by the ACLU of Vermont, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) later joined it to ask the Superior Court of Vermont to “recognize [that Bombard’s] First Amendment rights were violated.”

“The police video of the illegal stop shows that Vermont State Trooper Jay Riggen abused his power by retaliating against Bombard for flipping him the bird,” FIRE said in a press release at the time. “The First Amendment protects the right to engage in rude or offensive speech — including the middle finger — especially when directed at government authorities.”

In a statement of his own, Bombard said, “I respect the police and other first responders. But I respect officers who first respect the Constitution. Those who betray their oath have to be held accountable.”

“Police are charged with protecting the public, not their own bruised egos,” FIRE senior attorney Jay Diaz added. “It’s obvious from the footage that the officer wasn’t concerned about Greg’s safety. He just wanted to punish him for mouthing off.”

Diaz even defended Bombard’s decision to flip off Riggen after being released the first time.

“Bombard is no activist and doesn’t go around flipping off cops. He just reacted to being pulled over for no good reason,” the attorney said.

Years later, Bombard has won his case.

“While our client is pleased with this outcome, this incident should never have happened in the first place,” an ACLU Vermont staff attorney told the Associated Press. “Police need to respect everyone’s First Amendment rights — even for things they consider offensive or insulting.”

“Cursing at cops isn’t a crime,” FIRE senior attorney Jay Diaz added. “Calling it ‘disorderly conduct’ isn’t a get-out-the-Constitution-free card that allows police to silence speech they don’t like. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for arresting citizens for nothing more than exercising their rights.”

In a statement, Bombard for his part said that he hopes local police will, going forward, train their officers “to avoid silencing criticism or making baseless car stops.”

As previously reported, it was pretty much a surefire thing that Bombard would win his case.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled in 2013 in favor of a New York man who sued after he was arrested for disorderly conduct for flipping off a cop. The court held that the ‘ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity,’” Reason magazine noted.

“Other circuits have come to similar conclusions. In 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit denied qualified immunity to a Minnesota police officer who pulled over and arrested a man for flipping her off,” according to Reason.

Vivek Saxena

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