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Vermont doles out sum to man who flipped off state trooper: ‘Retaliatory arrest’

Vermont has agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union after a man was criminally charged for raising his middle finger at a state police officer. The ACLU Vermont chapter and the Foundation of Individual Rights and Expression filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gregory Bombard against the […]

Vermont has agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union after a man was criminally charged for raising his middle finger at a state police officer.

The ACLU Vermont chapter and the Foundation of Individual Rights and Expression filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gregory Bombard against the Vermont State Police.

In a statement, they said Bombard’s “First Amendment rights were violated after an unnecessary traffic stop and retaliatory arrest in 2018.” 


Under the settlement terms, Bombard will receive $100,000 in damages. An additional $75,000 is allocated for legal fees.

“This incident should never have happened in the first place,” Hillary Rich, an attorney for ACLU Vermont, said in a statement. 

“State legislators need to do more to prevent unnecessary and unjustified police interactions like the one Mr. Bombard experienced — by downsizing the footprint and broad authority of police in our communities,” she continued.

According to the ACLU’s complaint, Jay Riggen, a Vermont state police officer, pulled Bombard over under the belief Bombard had raised his middle finger at him.

Despite denying making such a gesture, Bombard was detained for questioning for several minutes. After this initial stop, he cursed and displayed his middle finger, leading to his arrest by Riggen for “disorderly conduct.”

This image taken from police dashcam video shows Gregory Bombard getting arrested on Feb. 9, 2018, in St. Albans, Vermont. The state has agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a lawsuit on behalf of Bombard, who was charged with a crime for giving a state trooper the middle finger in 2018, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (American Civil Liberties Union/Vt. State Police via AP)

Following this incident, he was detained in jail for over an hour and cited to appear in criminal court.

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The lawsuit argues the initial stop violated Bombard’s rights against unreasonable seizure and false arrest while also asserting that the gesture is a protected free expression under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article Thirteen of the Vermont Constitution.

The state’s attorney also filed a second charge of “disorderly conduct” against Bombard over the same incident “for recklessly create[ing] a risk of public annoyance by obstructing vehicular traffic.”

However, the court dismissed this charge prior to reaching a settlement.

Neither Riggen nor the state of Vermont admitted to the allegations against them in the lawsuit or any liability, according to the settlement.

The state police told NBC 5 that Riggen retired from the department on May 31.

“Over the course of our lawsuit, we learned that the Vermont State Police did not have a general First Amendment policy or training for its officers,” Jay Diaz, an attorney for FIRE, said in a statement.

“We wouldn’t tolerate police officers who don’t understand traffic laws or parking laws,” he continued. “Well, the Constitution is the highest law in the land, and it doesn’t allow cops to abuse their power to punish protected speech.” 

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Diaz argued that traffic stops in Vermont are the most common way people encounter law enforcement. He highlighted elevated rates compared to the national average and racial disparities that affect black and Latino drivers.

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“With this settlement, I hope the Vermont State Police will train its troopers to avoid silencing criticism or making baseless car stops,” Bombard said, according to the ACLU Vermont press release. “And at least now I can pay my criminal attorney for defending me from the bogus charges and take my 88-year-old mother out for a nice dinner.”

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