Appeals Court Rules Giving Middle Finger to Police Officer Shouldn’t Get You Arrested

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Giving the middle finger is an “ancient gesture of insult,” but it shouldn’t get you arrested, according to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The court recently reinstated a civil rights lawsuit filed by a New York man who was arrested for disorderly conduct after using his middle finger to express his displeasure to a police officer conducting a speed trap.

At the time of the incident, John Swartz was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his now wife, Judy Mayton-Swartz. Although she did not violate any traffic laws, the police officer followed the couple to their destination and proceeded to conduct a traffic stop. The officer called back up to the scene, but ultimately told the Swartz and his wife that they were free to go. Although the two sides offered varying descriptions of what happened next, Swartz claims that he sought to approach the officer to explain his actions, stating, “I feel like an ass.” However, another officer stepped in between them and stated: “That does it, you’re under arrest.” The couple later filed a lawsuit against the officers, alleging that their First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

The district court dismissed the suit, accepting the arresting officer’s justification for the traffic stop. It held that the stop was legal because Swartz’s “odd and aggressive behavior directed at a police officer created a reasonable suspicion that Swartz was either engaged in or about to be engaged in criminal activity, such as violence against the driver of the vehicle.”

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