Utah city settles case with man who flipped off officer
OREM, Utah — A man who was pulled over and cited after flipping off a Utah police officer in 2010 has agreed to drop his complaint after the city of Orem agreed to pay him $2,500 in damages and promised not to ticket anyone else for the obscene gesture.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah had threatened a lawsuit on behalf of Seth Dame, saying an officer violated Dame’s constitutional right to express himself after Dame flipped him off on June 25, 2010.
“Allowing police to detain and charge people for impolite behavior would grant police wide discretionary power to harass people they do not like,” said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, in a statement Nov. 15. “Any police overstep of power to crack down on expression, even rude expression, is therefore worth serious attention.”
The city refused to prosecute the case, but the ACLU claimed the incident violated Dame’s First Amendment free-speech rights and his Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure.
In the settlement, Orem agrees the officer shouldn’t have stopped Dame solely for giving the finger and says officers won’t do so in the future. The police department also agreed to continue training its officers about First Amendment protection.
“We do view this as a one-time, isolated incident, and don’t anticipate it happening it again,” Orem City Attorney Greg Stephens said.
The settlement provides $2,500 in attorneys fees to the ACLU and $2,500 in damages to Dame.
Officials with the Orem city attorney’s office didn’t return a request for comment in time for this story.
The ACLU notes that similar cases have been settled in Pennsylvania and Kansas.
“Various courts have concluded that using your middle finger to express discontent or frustration is expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment,” Mejia said. “We are very pleased that Orem has responded to our efforts to ensure that everyone’s free speech rights are protected.”