Civil Matters

Rankin & Taylor Client Robert Bell Sues for Right to Salute Police Officers with His Middle Finger

Rankin & Taylor client Robert Bell does not like the police, and now he has a federal lawsuit to vindicate his right to say so.

When Bell saw three NYPD officers walk past him last August, he saluted them with his middle finger. A fourth officer saw Bell’s gesture and placed him under arrest. Bell was taken to a police precinct and held for several hours before being released with a summons charging him with disorderly conduct. Represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union in criminal court, the charge was dismissed when the arresting officer failed to show up to court.

Bell’s lawsuit – filed in Manhattan’s federal district court – alleges the officers violated his constitutional right to dissent, including the right to raise his middle finger at police officers.

Claims like Bell’s are not unique, as courts have repeatedly recognized that raising the middle finger is speech which is protected by the First Amendment. Bell’s case follows on the heels of a federal lawsuit against a Pittsburgh police officer who arrested a man after he flipped off the officer, resulting in a judgment against the officer and a $50,000 settlement to the plaintiff.

Press coverage of Mr. Bell’s civil rights lawsuit: New York: “Man Arrested for Giving Cops the Finger Says it Was a Joke New York: “Man Sues for Right to Give Cops the Finger After Village Arrest
New York Magazine
New York Post
The Star-Ledger