July 17, 2024

The Health

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Driver arrested after giving trooper middle finger settles for $175K

A $175,000 settlement has been reached in the lawsuit of a Vermont man who said he was arrested after he gave an officer the middle finger, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The civil rights organization said a state police trooper pulled over Gregory Bombard, claiming he had made the gesture, which Bombard denied. An argument followed, and then Bombard did give the officer the middle finger, which led to his arrest on allegations of disorderly conduct, the ACLU said.

“Police need to respect everyone’s First Amendment rights — even for things they consider offensive or insulting,” Hillary Rich, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Vermont, said in a statement.

The ACLU of Vermont and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, filed the lawsuit against the trooper and the state of Vermont.

The defendants did not admit any guilt, the settlement agreement says.

arrested for middle finger gesture towards officer
Gregory Bombard of St. Albans, Vt.Courtesy Kevin Goddard Photography via FIRE

Bombard will get $100,000, and the other $75,000 will go to attorneys’ fees, the ACLU said.

The lawsuit alleged violations of Bombard’s First Amendment protections of speech and his Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Dashcam video posted online by FIRE showed the officer telling Bombard during the traffic stop that, as he drove by, “it looked like you looked right at me, and it looked like you stuck your middle finger up in my face.”

Bombard denies it, saying the officer seems sensitive. “If someone flipped you off, what is the citation? What’s the crime?” he says in the video.

The officer responds that he thought a gesture like that meant someone was trying to get his attention and that it was unusual.

The officer says Bombard is free to go and walks back to his patrol vehicle. Bombard drives away, and the officer in his car is heard saying that Bombard used an offensive phrase and “flipped the bird” and that he was going to pull him over and arrest him for disorderly conduct.

A Vermont State Police spokesman said the trooper who was sued, Jay Riggen, resigned effective May 31 and that the agency had no further comment. A phone number for Riggen could not immediately be found Thursday.

Bombard said in a statement released by the ACLU and FIRE that he was pleased with the outcome.

“With this settlement, I hope the Vermont State Police will train its troopers to avoid silencing criticism or making baseless car stops,” Bombard said. “And at least now I can pay my criminal attorney for defending me from the bogus charges and take my 88-year-old mother out for a nice dinner.”