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VICTORY: Vermont man jailed for flipping off cop receives $175K settlement

Gregory Bombard Horizontal

FIRE plaintiff Gregory Bombard.

  • Gregory Bombard was arrested for nothing more than using profanity and giving an officer the finger — all constitutionally protected expression.
  • Represented by FIRE and the ACLU of Vermont, Bombard successfully sued the state of Vermont and the trooper for violating his First Amendment rights.
  • The settlement includes $100,000 in damages and an additional $75,000 in attorneys’ fees.

ST. ALBANS, Vt., June 26, 2024 — Justice has a long arm, and the Vermont State Police just got the finger.

In February 2018, Gregory Bombard was illegally pulled over, arrested, and locked up for nothing more than swearing and giving a state trooper the bird. With the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and the ACLU of Vermont, Bombard sued the Vermont State Police and Trooper Jay Riggen for violating his First Amendment rights.

Today, the defendants have agreed to a settlement that awards Bombard $100,000 in damages and another $75,000 in attorneys’ fees.

“With this settlement, I hope the Vermont State Police will train its troopers to avoid silencing criticism or making baseless car stops,” said Bombard. “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.”

Bombard was stopped by Riggen after the trooper thought that he had given him the middle finger. Riggen was mistaken, but it would have been an illegal stop anyway. The First Amendment protects the right to engage in offensive speech directed at government officials, including profanity and — yes — the middle finger.

The police dashcam video shows that Bombard even reminded Riggen of his constitutional obligations. “If someone flipped you off, what is the citation? What’s the crime?” he asked, later adding: “​​That would be considered freedom of expression.”


As Riggen pulled away, Bombard really did give him the finger and cursed at him. A visibly angry Riggen immediately pulled Bombard over a second time, handcuffed him, and arrested him for “disorderly conduct.” Bombard was taken down to the station, locked in a cell, had his fingerprints and mugshot taken, and then the photos of him were distributed to local media outlets.

“Cursing at cops isn’t a crime,” said FIRE senior attorney Jay Diaz. “Calling it ‘disorderly conduct’ isn’t a get-out-the-Constitution-free card that allows police to silence speech they don’t like.”

Adding salt to the wound, Riggen had Bombard’s car towed for being in front of a “no parking” sign — even though Bombard had only pulled over at Riggen’s command.

In 2021, Bombard filed a lawsuit against Riggen and the state of Vermont for violating his First Amendment rights. During the lawsuit, FIRE and the ACLU of Vermont learned that the Vermont State Police did not have a general First Amendment policy or training for its officers.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse for arresting citizens for nothing more than exercising their rights,” said Diaz. “We wouldn’t tolerate police officers who don’t understand traffic laws or parking laws. Well, the Constitution is the highest law in the land and it doesn’t allow cops to punish speech they don’t like.”


In December 2023, FIRE released for the first time the video of the arrest, which received widespread media attention in Vermont and nationwide. Then, on Christmas evening in 2023, the state police retaliated against Bombard again. The newly released video of his 2018 arrest caused numerous people to call the Vermont State Police to complain about the violation of Bombard’s rights.

Instead of addressing those concerns, the Vermont State Police issued Bombard another citation for disorderly conduct. They blamed him for the phone calls and sent a local sheriff to his home on Christmas day to drop off the criminal citation — making sure Bombard knew they were happy to come after him again. The following day, they dropped the charges.


As part of the settlement, Bombard agreed not to sue in the future over these additional free-speech violations.

“While our client is pleased with this outcome, this incident should never have happened in the first place,” said ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Hillary Rich. “Police need to respect everyone’s First Amendment rights—even for things they consider offensive or insulting. 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.” 

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.


Alex Griswold, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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