A Wisconsin family on vacation in San Diego was pulled over by police in Oceanside, California, after their rental car was mistakenly flagged by the town’s automated stolen car reporting system. They were ordered out of their vehicle at gunpoint and treated as dangerous criminals. As it turns out, the rental car company had neglected to withdraw an older report that the rented vehicle was stolen. The town’s automated camera system notified police of the vehicle’s whereabouts, leading to this interaction.
Newly released video shows a Vallejo police officer throw a man to the ground seconds after meeting him outside a bar earlier this year, which left the man with a swollen gash on his head. Officer Rosendo Mesa had encountered the man, identified as 58-year-old Moises Bernal, outside a bar after Bernal had been kicked out on Jan. 21. Mesa arrested Bernal for alleged disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but he was not charged with a crime. This raises issues of excessive force, as well as whether reasonable suspicion existed to seize the man in the first place.
Is there a protected First Amendment right to flip the bird, or give the middle finger, to police officers? This footage comes to us from Riverside, California from “Joshing U” on Youtube, showing his arrest, for what he claims was retaliation in response to his giving the middle finger to a California Highway Patrol officer. Back in April I did a video on the same topic, involving my client, Corey Lambert.
The protections of the First Amendment are not limited to spoken words, but rather include gestures and other expressive conduct, even if vulgar or offensive to some. For example, in Cohen v. California (1971), the Supreme Court held that an individual wearing a jacket bearing the words “F**k the Draft” in a courthouse corridor could not be prosecuted for disturbing the peace.
Consistent with this precedent, although “the gesture generally known as ‘giving the finger’ … is widely regarded as an offensive insult,” Bad Frog Brewery, Inc. v. N.Y. State Liquor Auth. , (2d Cir. 1998), it is a gesture that is generally protected by the First Amendment. See, e.g. , Cruise-Gulyas v. Minard (6th Cir. 2019) (“Any reasonable [police] officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”); Garcia v. City of New Hope (8th Cir. 2021) (“[Plaintiff’s] raising his middle finger at [a police officer] is a rude and offensive gesture but nonetheless, under current precedent, is a constitutionally protected speech activity.”); Batyukova v. Doege(5th Cir. 2021) (same); accord Swartz v. Insogna (2d Cir. 2013) (holding that giving the middle finger could not support arrest for disorderly conduct); see generally Ira P. Robbins, Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law , 41 U.C. DAVIS L. REV. 1403, 1407–08, 1434 (2008) (observing that the middle finger can express a variety of emotions—such as anger, frustration, defiance, protest, excitement—or even “possess[ ] political or artistic value”).
Recently, a new sheriff was elected in Los Angeles County. He held a press conference about some bodycam footage that he had just become aware of, showing a deputy punching a mother in the face, in an attempt to take the baby from the mother over concerns that she had not properly transported the child in a carseat. Did the officer act reasonably?
By the way, this is the same agency that is also under investigation for another incident, wherein an elderly woman was slammed to the ground unnecessarily.
The LA County Sheriff’s Department recently showed up at a family’s home, entered without a warrant and then placed the teenage kids in handcuffs. No crime had been committed. No explanation was given. The family posted the surveillance footage on Tik Tok and it went viral. The sheriff’s department then responded, claiming that they received a call from a concerned citizen, and that upon arrival, the door was open.