Vermont man suing after getting arrested for flipping off, swearing at state trooper

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A Vermont man has filed a lawsuit alleging his right to free expression was violated after being arrested for flipping off and swearing at a state trooper in February 2018.

Gregory Bombard was pulled over by Vermont State Trooper Jay Riggen in 2018 while driving through St. Albans, which sits about 30 miles north of Burlington. The trooper said he initiated the traffic stop because he thought Bombard had flipped him off, which he interpreted as a possible signal for help.

“You need something?” the officer asked. “Looked like you looked right at me, and you stuck your middle finger up my face.”

“You must be really sensitive,” Bombard said.

Well, first off, I’m not an overly sensitive person,” Riggen replied. “That’s the first time in 12 years I’ve ever stopped someone who I saw flipping me off, so I don’t like that insinuation.”

Bombard later threatened to file a complaint against the trooper. After a brief exchange, the trooper allowed Bombard to go free, but appeared to change his mind a moment later.

“It looks like as he pulled away, he called me an a—hole and said ‘f--- you,’” Riggen said. “Flipped the bird. I’m going to arrest him for disorderly conduct.”

He then pulled Bombard over again, ordered him to step out of his vehicle, and handcuffed him.

All the people there? Saying f--- you and a—hole, all the people there in the public, that’s a crime, sir,” Riggen said.

“How is that disorderly conduct?” Bombard asked.

“Although the first interaction may have been an error, the second one certainly was not,” Riggen replied.

Bombard was then taken to jail and his vehicle was towed.

Free speech advocacy group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Vermont joined Bombard’s legal team to support the case. Such an interaction, FIRE senior attorney Jay Diaz wrote, is highly inappropriate for a police officer.

Police are charged with protecting the public, not their own bruised egos,” Diaz said. “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.”

The lawsuit explains Bombard has every right to flip the bird and accuses Riggen of violating the protections guaranteed in both the U.S. Constitution and Vermont Constitution.

“Giving the “middle finger” to protest a police officer’s actions constitutes expression that is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article Thirteen of the Vermont Constitution,” the lawsuit reads.

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