Orem settles lawsuit over middle finger free speech

Posted at 5:30 PM, Nov 15, 2012

OREM, Utah - A man has settled a lawsuit he filed against the Orem Department of Public Safety over a disorderly conduct citation he was given for "flipping off" a police officer, leading to a 2010 traffic stop.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah announced Thursday it had settled the lawsuit on behalf of Seth Dame for $5,000. In 2010, he was in a car when he gave the officer the middle finger, resulting in a traffic stop.

The ACLU of Utah said Dame was detained for 20 minutes before being handed a disorderly conduct citation. He sued, claiming the officer violated his First Amendment right to free expression and his Fourth Amendment right against unlawful detention.

"Under the First Amendment, even if you make a rude gesture to a police officer, that alone is not grounds to be stopped and cited," said John Mejia, the legal director of the ACLU of Utah. "Police officers just have to have thicker skins than that."

Orem city chose not to prosecute Dame for disorderly conduct, Sgt. Craig Martinez told FOX 13 on Thursday.

"In this officer's case, he was misinformed about on what the area of disorderly conduct and what it falls upon, as well as the First Amendment," he said.

Courts have held in similar cases that "flipping off" a police officer is a constitutionally protected activity. In Dame's case, the settlement also calls for officers to regularly undergo trainings on the First Amendment.

"The constitution does protect us when we want to express ourselves," Mejia said. "Even rudely."