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Man Arrested for Giving Cops the Finger Wins $15K Settlement from the City

By Andrea Swalec | February 14, 2013 6:28am

MANHATTAN — The man who fought for his right to flip the bird now has some cash in his hands.

Robert Bell, 26, won a $15,000 settlement from the city Tuesday after he sued, arguing that his First Amendment rights were violated when Greenwich Village cops arrested him in 2011 for flipping off a group of officers, federal court records show.

Bell, an information technology recruiter who said he'll use the settlement funds to pay for law school, said he felt vindicated by the decision and that he'll give the NYPD the middle-finger salute again.

"If I thought [an officer] was in the wrong for something, I would do it," he said. "I would just ensure that I prefaced any criticism with 'With all due respect.'"

As DNAinfo.com New York was first to report, Bell, an Edison, N.J. resident, was leaving the Slaughtered Lamb Pub on West Fourth Street about 10 p.m. Aug. 6, 2011, when three officers walked past him, he said and legal documents showed. With the officers' backs to him, Bell raised his middle finger for "one to two seconds," he said.

But little did he know that a fourth officer who lagged behind his colleagues spotted the offending gesture. He swooped in and arrested Bell, he 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 6th 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, Bell pleaded not guilty to the charge in Oct. 2011 and the case was dismissed after the officer who filed the police report failed to appear in court to testify against Bell, according to the lawsuit.

He decided to file the lawsuit — 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.

Quackenbush argued that the city's settlement with Bell fits into a bigger context of perceived challenges to police, in which he included stop-and-frisks.

He said he believes the city opted to settle the civil liberties suit because city lawyers knew they had "no chance" at trial.

"With outrageous facts like these, they knew they didn't want a jury to hear about it," he said.

City attorney Ryan Shaffer, who handled the case, said in a statement that the settlement is not an admission of NYPD error.

"The settlement is in the parties' best interest," Shaffer said. "It is not an indication of any police wrongdoing."