A Vermont man has filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated during a traffic stop five years ago.
Gregory 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:
“An angry Riggen responded by immediately pulling over Bombard a second time and arresting him for ‘disorderly conduct.’ Bombard was handcuffed, searched, thrown in the back of a police car, imprisoned in a station holding cell, and forced to have his fingerprints and mugshot taken, which were later distributed to Vermont media outlets,” according to a press release from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).
“As a final indignity, Riggen told Bombard his car would be towed because Bombard had pulled over into a ‘no parking’ zone, even though he did so because the trooper had ordered him to stop there,” the press release continues.
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, because he’s now being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Vermont and FIRE.
LAWSUIT: A Vermont man was interrogated, arrested, and cited by a state trooper.
The alleged crime?
Cursing at a cop and giving him the middle finger.
Now FIRE is asking the Superior Court of VT to recognize Greg Bombard’s First Amendment rights were violated. pic.twitter.com/HYZ5SjbW8Z
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) December 18, 2023
“According to his suit, the local prosecutor twice tried to charge him with disorderly conduct—it was dismissed both times—and dragged out the case for nearly a year. Bombard’s car was towed because he was pulled over in a no-parking zone, and his mugshot was distributed by the state police,” Reason magazine notes.
The suit was originally filed by the ACLU, but FIRE recently joined Bombard’s legal team and is now reportedly asking the Superior Court of Vermont to “recognize [that his] 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’s press release reads. “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.
BREAKING NEWS: Vermont resident Gregory Bombard filed a lawsuit this week challenging a retaliatory arrest by a Vermont State Police Trooper in February 2018. #vtpoli
— ACLU of Vermont (@ACLUVermont) February 4, 2021
The good news for Bombard is that the courts have a history of siding with cases like his.
“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 notes.
“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.
Also, way back in 1997, the 6th Circuit upheld the right to yell “f–k you” and flip off a police officer from a moving vehicle. That decision reportedly drew from a 1972 Supreme Court decision in Cohen v. California in which the high court upheld the right of a guy to enter a courthouse wearing a jacket with the words “f–k the draft” emblazed on it.