A Vermont State Trooper was observed in newly released video footage arresting a man for disorderly conduct after being flipped off and cursed at during a traffic stop – a move that led the man to file a lawsuit against the trooper for violation of rights.
Gregory Bombard was driving through St. Albans, Vermont, in February 2018 when state trooper Jay Riggen pulled him over as the two drove past each other. Riggen mistakenly believed that Bombard had given him the middle finger in passing, but it turned out that Bombard did not make the gesture in that moment.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, released dashcam video on Monday of the Feb. 9, 2018, arrest. Bombard is now suing over the incident, arguing that his right to free speech and expression was violated.
As Bombard reminded Riggen several times during the stop, pulling him over for flipping him off would have been unconstitutional even if the gesture had been made.
"If someone flipped you off, what is the citation? What's the crime?" Bombard asked, later adding, "That would be considered freedom of expression, so I'm going to file a complaint against you."
Riggen responded, "And you're more than welcome to. So here's the issue: Although it may be freedom of expression, it's so unusual that it requires intervention to make sure you don't need help of some kind."
The stop concluded after Bombard suggested he would file a complaint, and as Bombard pulled away, he actually did give the finger and said "a--hole" and "f--k you" to Riggen.
"It looks like as he pulled away he called me an a--hole and said, 'F--k you.' Flipped the bird. I'm going to arrest him for disorderly conduct," Riggen relayed into his radio.
Riggen then pulled Bombard over again and arrested him for disorderly conduct. Bombard was handcuffed, searched and placed in the back of Riggen's car before being taken to jail. Riggen also told Bombard that his car would be towed because he had pulled over into a "No Parking" zone when he was ordered by the state trooper to stop there.
"Police are charged with protecting the public, not their own bruised egos," FIRE senior attorney Jay Diaz said in a statement. "It's obvious from the footage that the officer wasn’t concerned about Greg's safety. He just wanted to punish him for mouthing off."
The charges against Bombard were later dropped, after nearly a year of legal fees and expenses.
Bombard, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, filed a lawsuit in 2021 against Riggen and the state of Vermont for violating his First Amendment and Vermont constitutional rights.
FIRE joined Bombard's legal team last year, and both groups are asking the Superior Court of Vermont to "recognize Bombard's First Amendment rights were violated in February 2018 when he was interrogated, arrested, and cited by a state trooper."
"Traffic stops are the most common way that people interact with law enforcement," ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Hillary Rich said in a statement. "To protect the safety and personal liberties of all Vermonters, the state needs to do more to prevent unnecessary and unjustified police interactions like the one Mr. Bombard experienced."