Driver Wins $175k Settlement After Being Arrested For Giving Cop the Middle Finger

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jun 27, 2024

A Vermont man has been awarded $175,000 in a lawsuit settlement with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The Foundation For Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) after he was arrested for giving a law enforcement officer the middle finger.

According to the ACLU, he was pulled over by the cop who said he made the gesture on the road, which the man denied. An argument ensued where the man actually did give him the gesture, leading to his arrest for disorderly conduct.

ACLU Statement

On Wednesday, the ACLU issued a statement on the settlement of the case, which they viewed as a huge First Amendment win that protects someone’s right to be offensive or insulting.

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The First Amendment to the Constitution written on a stone statue.

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

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Timeline of Events

The ACLU statement broke down the timeline of events for their client Gregory Bombard as they happened back in 2018.

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“State Trooper Jay Riggen stopped Bombard’s vehicle in St. Albans in 2018 because he believed Bombard gave him the middle finger. Bombard denied making any such gesture but was harangued and detained by Riggen for several minutes of questioning,” said the ACLU.

Cursing the Officer

After being detained for questioning, Bombard expressed his displeasure at the officer by displaying his middle finger, an act that got him arrested.

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“Once the initial stop and detention concluded, Bombard cursed and did display his middle finger—upon which Riggen arrested him for disorderly conduct. He was jailed for over an hour, cited to criminal court, and forced to navigate criminal proceedings for nearly a year before the charge was dismissed,” the ACLU statement said.

On Video

The interaction between the officer and Bombard was posted to YouTube by FIRE which showed footage from the officer’s dash cam.

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Greg Bombard is arrested for allegedly flipping off a police officer.

Source: FIRE/Youtube

In the video, Riggen can be heard saying “It looked like you looked right at me, and it looked like you stuck your middle finger up in my face.”

Textbook Case

The officer can be heard arguing with Bombard about his actions in the dash cam footage, saying he had done “disorderly conduct 101,” demanding that he “get out of the car” to be arrested.

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“I’m not an overly sensitive person, and it’s the first time in 12 years I’ve ever stopped someone who I saw flipping me off,” the officer said while standing outside Bombard’s vehicle after stopping him.

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Respectful of Officers

Bombard has expressed the belief that he has respect for police and others who put themselves at risk to protect the public, but believes his conduct is covered under his free speech rights.

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

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Lawsuit Filing

In 2021, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the officer on Bombard’s behalf. 

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The lawsuit asserted that “the initial stop not only violated his rights to be free from unreasonable seizure and false arrest, but also that giving the middle finger to protest a police officer’s actions is free expression protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article Thirteen of the Vermont Constitution. “

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Lack of Training

Jay Diaz, a senior attorney for FIRE, remarked that the lawsuit uncovered a lack of training for Vermont officers on the First Amendment.

A close-up of the preamble of the US Constitution with a focus on "We the People."

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“Over the course of our lawsuit, we learned that the Vermont State Police did not have a general First Amendment policy or training for its officers. We wouldn’t tolerate police officers who don’t understand traffic laws or parking laws. Well, the Constitution is the highest law in the land, and it doesn’t allow cops to abuse their power to punish protected speech,” said Diaz.

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Vermont Traffic Stops

In the United States, a traffic stop is the most common interaction someone will have with a law enforcement officer.

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In Vermont, the rate of traffic stops is higher than the nation’s average. Between 2015 and 2019, 255 drivers per 1,000 residents were stopped in Vermont, much higher than the 88 drivers per 1,000 residents nationwide during that same period.

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Bombard’s Thoughts

In the ACLU press release, Bombard gave a statement on his feelings about the case, hoping Vermont cops have learned a lesson from the ordeal.

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“With this settlement, I hope the Vermont State Police will train its troopers to avoid silencing criticism or making baseless car stops. 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,” said Bombard.

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Award Winnings

The lawsuit Bombard v. Riggen reached a settlement agreement before the State of Vermont Superior Court.

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Bombard was given $175,000 in a gross sum. $100,000 dollars of this sum he was allowed to keep and the remaining amount was instructed to be paid to the ACLU and FIRE.

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