January 22, 2015
If you see an on-duty police officer and you suddenly feel the need to flip him the bird, go ahead and raise that middle finger salute — a federal judge said it’s perfectly alright and you can’t be ‘cuffed for it.
You can thank a New York man, John Swartz, for bringing this right to light after an incident in 2006, when he was riding along with his wife and flipped off a cop stationed nearby, tracking driver’s speed. Right as the couple arrived home, an officer came up behind them and asked Swartz’ wife, Judy Mayton-Swartz, for her license and registration, to which John stepped in and refused to do on her behalf, according to RT.
“Shut your mouth, your ass is in enough trouble,” Swartz recalls Officer Insogna telling him in that moment.
John’s refusal to provide the documentation, which his wife ultimately provided, led to him requesting to talk “man to man” with the officer to discuss what had just happened. But instead of conversation, the officer handcuffed and arrested him for disorderly conduct.
Swartz challenged the legitimacy of the charge in court, citing that he had been falsely arrested. His lawsuit was first dismissed by the District Court, but upon appeal, the U.S. Appellate Court for the Second Circuit agreed that he did not commit a crime.
According to the court filings, Officer Insogna, who was on the receiving end of Swartz’ flip-off, claimed he considered the gesture to be a signal of distress and pulled the couple over under the assumption that the man was trying to get the officer’s attention for “some reason.”
“I thought that maybe there could be a problem in the car,” he told the court. “I just wanted to assure the safety of the passengers,” and “I was concerned for the female driver,” he added, citing the possibility of a domestic dispute within the vehicle. Despite the two being found to be okay, John was still arrested and charged, stemming from the offensive bird debacle.
The court didn’t accept the officer’s ridiculous excuse of potential domestic violence, saying “nearly universal recognition that this gesture is an insult deprives such an interpretation of reasonableness,” and ruled that the offensive finger is protected.
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