Giving Cops The Finger Is Protected Speech, Says Another Federal Court
from the learn-faster,-idiots dept
Another federal court has given its official approval of flipping the bird to cops. This isn’t to say it’s a wise idea, just a Constitutional one. Extending the middle finger is protected speech. Detentions or arrests that follow bird-flipping are usually unsupported by any of things officers need to have on hand (probable cause, reasonable suspicion, etc.) to deprive someone of their liberty.
Other cops have argued the hand gesture that pissed them off so much they broke the Constitution is some sort of universal distress signal. The ensuing interaction wasn’t about being offended, but rather their outsized concern someone in the vehicle might be in need of assistance. Courts have found this argument literally unbelievable.
In this case, the cop being sued made no such argument. Instead, Officer Wayne Minard maintained he had probable cause to pull Debra Cruise-Guylas over again because he had only issued a warning about her speeding. The court doesn’t agree with this assessment. It points out Guylas had already been pulled over for speeding. The citation ultimately issued by Officer Minard may have been for impeding traffic, but the purpose of the original stop was fulfilled when the citation was issued. No further violation had occurred when Minard pulled Guylas over a second time. From the decision [PDF]: (h/t Adam Steinbaugh)
The evidence before the Court included a state court record that established the Plaintiff had received and paid a ticket for impeding traffic. […] While Defendant could have, at that time, issued a ticket for speeding, he did not. It was only after the initial stop had been completed, and Plaintiff drove off and “flipped the bird” that Defendant stopped her a second time without any legal justification.
Also, the cop’s lawyer wasn’t much help:
[A]t the September 21, 2018 hearing, Defendant’s counsel conceded: “No doubt the gesture helped — it probably was the foundation for the change of his [Defendant’s] mind” [to implement a second stop] … “I can’t argue around that, your Honor.”
The court notes there’s plenty of precedent on point that says officers can’t detain people for offending them. The lawsuit proceeds and Officer Minard will have to deal with the unpleasant outcome of his idiotic actions.
The Constitution may cover giving officers the finger, but that doesn’t mean officers won’t make you miserable for exercising your First Amendment rights. Sure, you may gain some satisfaction from the courts, but you’ll be out a lot of time and money. This isn’t to say self-censorship is the way to go, but there are real costs attached to exercising your freedoms if you happen to anger the wrong [sigh] “public servant.”
Government employees can violate rights in mere seconds and defend against allegations using someone else’s money. Citizens don’t have that luxury, which is why stupid shit like this continues to happen. A better cop would have let it go, costing no one anything. Officer Minard isn’t one of those cops, and his willingness to abuse the power entrusted to him should be a major concern to his employers.