Posted on January 5, 2013 by lucas2012infos | Leave a comment
“A gesture of insult known for centuries”
Next time you see a police officer on patrol, go right ahead and give
‘em the finger. Don’t worry: a federal judge says it’s perfectly
More than six years after John Swartz was handcuffed and arrested for
flipping-off a police officer in St. Johnsville, New York, the US Court
of Appeals for the Second Circuit says he committed no crime.
Swartz was riding in the passenger side of his wife’s car in 2006
when he gave the finger to a police officer stationed nearby with a
radar detector aimed at traffic. When the couple pulled up to their
home, a cop came up behind them and asked for Judy Mayton-Swartz’
license and registration, to which her husband insisted she should
“Shut your mouth, your ass is in enough trouble,” Mr. Swartz recalls Officer Insogna telling him.
After the information was processed and Mr. Swartz exited the car
outside of his home, he approached one of the four officers on the
scene. “I’d like to speak to you man to man,” he recalls saying.
John Swartz remembers telling the officers that he felt “like an ass”
for the whole ordeal, but he never managed to have the conversation
that he wanted. Instead, he was handcuffed and charged with disorderly
According to court filings, the officer that Mr. Swartz initially
flipped off considered the gesture a signal of distress. Insogna says he
decided to initiate a traffic stop because it appeared Swartz was
“trying to get my 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. By the time the
car was stopped, however, the officers learned that everyone was okay.
Except for John, however, who was brought in to a local police station
and released shortly thereafter.
A District Court initially dismissed a lawsuit waged by Swartz that
alleged he had been falsely arrested, claiming Officer Insogna’s claim
of a possible domestic disturbance wasn’t that far-fetched. The
plaintiffs appealed, however, and this week an appellate judge agreed
that giving the finger was not reason enough to warrant a stop.
“An irate automobile passenger’s act of ‘giving the finger,’ a
gesture of insult known for centuries, to a policeman has led to a
seizure of two persons ordered to return to an automobile, an arrest for
disorderly conduct, a civil rights suit, and now this appeal,” Circuit
Judiige Jon O. Newman writes this week. Newman has appealed the earlier
decision that granted summary judgment to the defendants — Officer
Insogna and a colleagues — and has remanded for further proceedings.
“The only act Insogna had observed prior to the stop that prompted
him to initiate the stop was John’s giving the-finger gesture,” he adds.
“Insogna acknowledged in his deposition that he had not observed any
indication of a motor vehicle violation. He stated, somewhat
inconsistently, that he thought John ‘was trying to get my attention for
some reason’ and that he ‘was concerned for the female driver.’”
“Perhaps there is a police officer somewhere who would interpret an
automobile passenger’s giving him the finger as a signal of distress,
creating a suspicion that something occurring in the automobile
warranted investigation. And perhaps that interpretation is what
prompted Insogna to act, as he claims. But the nearly universal
recognition that this gesture is an insult deprives such an
interpretation of reasonableness. This ancient gesture of insult is not
the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending
“Surely no passenger planning some wrongful conduct toward another
occupant of an automobile would call attention to himself by giving the
finger to a police officer. And if there might be an automobile
passenger somewhere who will give the finger to a police officer as an
ill-advised signal for help, it is far more consistent with all
citizens’ protection against improper police apprehension to leave that
highly unlikely signal without a response than to lend judicial approval
to the stopping of every vehicle from which a passenger makes that
http://www.rt.com / link to original article
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