Man Sues for Right to Give Cops the Finger After Village Arrest

By Andrea Swalec on July 11, 2012 4:25pm 

Police arrested a man in August 2011 after he gave officers the finger.
Police arrested a man in August 2011 after he gave officers the finger.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

MANHATTAN — He's fighting for his right to flip the bird.

A 26-year-old man who was arrested last summer for giving the middle finger to police outside a Greenwich Village bar filed a lawsuit against the city Wednesday, arguing his First Amendment were violated, according to court documents.

Robert Bell, a financial services recruiter who lives in Edison, N.J., was leaving the Slaughtered Lamb Pub on West 4th Street about 10 p.m. Aug. 6, 2011, when three officers walked past him, legal documents showed. With the officers' backs to him, Bell raised his middle finger for "one to two seconds," the documents said. 

But little did he know that a fourth officer who lagged behind his colleagues spotted the offending gesture and swooped in to arrest Bell, his lawyers said.

"Do you think that's funny?" the officer said as he handcuffed Bell, according to the lawsuit. 

The officers searched Bell's pockets and asked him why he had made the gesture. 

"Because I don't like cops," he said, according to the lawsuit. 

Bell was held at the Sixth Precinct stationhouse, released after about two hours and charged with disorderly conduct for making an "obscene gesture" and causing "public alarm and annoyance," the suit said. 

Represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, he pleaded not guilty to the charge in October 2011 and the case was dismissed, after the officer who filed the police report did not appear in court to testify against Bell, the suit said. 

He decided to file the suit — which charges police with violating the Constitution, assault, false arrest and imprisonment, and inflicting emotional distress — because he thought he had been wronged, his attorney Robert Quackenbush said.

"He was upset that police would retaliate against him for speech he thought was protected," Quackenbush said.

Bell is seeking an undisclosed amount in compensation for the "pain, suffering, mental anguish and humiliation" he has experienced, the suit said. 

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