Vermont man arrested after giving soldier the finger receives $175,000

A Vermont man who was arrested in 2018 for brandishing a middle finger and insulting a state trooper received $175,000 this month to settle a lawsuit he filed against the state and the officer who arrested him, according to court documents.

The man, Gregory Bombard, 57, of St. Albans, Vermont, accused the state trooper of violating his First Amendment rights.

Dashcam footage shows Jay Riggen, the arresting officer, stopping Mr. Bombard twice in St. Albans on February 9, 2018 and accusing him of giving him the finger. Mr. Bombard first denies it, then gives the police officer the finger and insults him. Mr. Bombard was subsequently arrested and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct, which were later dismissed and dropped.

According to the complaint filed in 2021, police released Mr. Bombard’s photo to local media after his arrest and towed his car from where he had stopped. Attorneys representing him said that last Christmas, State Police issued another citation ordering him to be arraigned on disorderly conduct charges in connection with the 2018 episode after camera footage from dashboard of his arrest were released and the police received a public response.

A local prosecutor declined to prosecute the case and the citation was vacated.

Jay Riggen, the arresting officer, and the state admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement. Mr. Riggen retired from the Vermont State Police on May 31, according to the police department. State police declined to comment further.

The Vermont attorney general’s office, which represented the state in the case, declined to comment.

Cases involving people raising a middle finger have already tested the waters where protected free speech meets law enforcement. A federal appeals court ruled in 2019 that this gesture constituted a form of freedom of expression.

“Anyone who understands even the basics of First Amendment 101 will understand that an officer can’t just go out there and retaliate against someone, arrest them, put them in a cell just because that person hurts their ego,” Jay said Diaz, a lawyer with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) who represented Mr. Bombard.

Under the settlement, Mr. Bombard received $100,000 and $75,000 was paid to his lawyers at FIRE and the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

Mr. Diaz said his client was initially hesitant to sue, but decided to do so after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 “to expose police misconduct in his home state.” The lawyer said Mr Bombard was pleased with the outcome, but nonetheless felt the humiliation of the incident.

“It hasn’t left him,” Mr. Diaz said.

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