One fateful August evening in 2011, a man named Robert Bell was getting a breath of fresh air outside The Slaughtered Lamb Pub on West 4th Street when several of New York's Finest happened to stroll by. Bell, it seems, has a problem with authority, so after the cops passed, he raised his middle finger at them behind their backs. Unfortunately for him, there was a fourth officer who witnessed the shocking gesture, and Bell was immediately placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct. Now he's suing the city, the taxpayers will probably end up paying for the wonderful stupidity of everyone involved.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court this morning, the NYPD violated the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States when they arrested Bell for giving the bird. The suit maintains that Bell's finger "remained in the air for approximately one to two seconds," which was long enough for Officer Peter Play to become enraged. Policeman Play allegedly approached Bell and asked, “DO YOU THINK THAT’S FUNNY?”
But before Bell could even respond, Officer Play allegedly "grabbed Bell, rear-cuffed him, escorted him around the corner near the other officer-defendants, and pushed [him] chest-first into a wall. They searched his pockets and, failing to inform him of his Miranda rights, asked him why he flipped them off. Bell says he replied, "Because I don’t like cops." The officer claimed that passersby expressed "alarm and annoyance," but Bell insists there were very few people on the street, and, even those that were didn't react to his gesture.
He was taken to the local precinct, where he cooled his heels for a couple of hours while being booked for disorderly conduct. While in the holding cell, the lawsuit alleges that "several officer-defendants made derogatory comments and taunts regarding their perception of Bell's sexual orientation." He was ultimately released without having to spend the night at the Tombs going through Central Booking, and after consulting with the NYCLU, Bell pleaded not guilty. And because Officer Play didn't appear at the court date, the charges were dropped.
But now Bell's making a stand on behalf of all Americans who salute with one finger. His lawyer, Robert Quackenbush, assures us that flipping the middle finger is protected by the First Amendment, "particularly where the officers who were the target of the gesture never even saw it, and especially because the Supreme Court has said that police officers are expected to exercise restraint in response to criticism." Seriously, lighten up NYPD—it's not like Bell gave you the toe.