Robert Bell, of Edison, was stepping out of a Manhattan bar last August as four New York City police officers passed by him, The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger reported Sunday. Bell then gave the cops the finger.
One of the officers confronted Bell and asked him for an explanation.
"Because I don't like cops," the 26-year-old responded. Bell was then arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
The case was dropped after Bell's arresting officer failed to appear in court.
However, Bell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the arresting officer, alleging his First Amendment were impeded.
Legal experts said Bell has a case, arguing that although was Bell did can be deemed offensive or defiant, giving the finger is not illegal.
"I can't arrest you for giving me the finger, any more than I can arrest you for calling me nasty names," said Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who is now an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "Sure it's stupid and disrespectful. But it's not against the law."
Chris Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented Bell in his criminal case, agreed.
"Crude as it may have been, you have a constitutional right to criticize police and that's exactly what he was doing. The Supreme Court has long recognized that to be the case," he said.
A New York Police Department spokesman, while not commenting on Bell's case, did say citizens are allowed to speak out against police officers.
Can you flip a cop the finger and curse him out? "Sure. It's actually protected by freedom of speech," said spokesman Sgt. Brendan Ryan.