ACLU Client Settles Case Against Vermont State Police Over Unconstitutional Arrest 

Gregory Bombard’s First Amendment rights were violated after an unnecessary traffic stop and retaliatory arrest in 2018 

June 26, 2024 

Contact: Emily Hagan-Howe, Communications Director, ACLU of Vermont, [email protected], 802-223-6304 x121 

(Montpelier, VT) – The ACLU and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) settled a lawsuit against the Vermont State Police on behalf of Gregory Bombard, whose First Amendment rights were violated after an unnecessary traffic stop and retaliatory arrest in 2018. The terms of the ACLU and FIRE’s settlement include $100,000 in damages paid to Bombard and $75,000 in legal fees. 

Hillary Rich, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Vermont: “While our client is pleased with this outcome, this incident should never have happened in the first place. Police need to respect everyone’s First Amendment rights—even for things they consider offensive or insulting. State legislators need to do more to prevent unnecessary and unjustified police interactions like the one Mr. Bombard experienced—by downsizing the footprint and broad authority of police in our communities.” 

State Trooper Jay Riggen stopped Bombard’s vehicle in St. Albans in 2018 because he believed Bombard gave him the middle finger. Bombard denied making any such gesture but was harangued and detained by Riggen for several minutes of questioning. Once the initial stop and detention concluded, Bombard cursed and did display his middle finger—upon which Riggen arrested him for disorderly conduct. He was jailed for over an hour, cited to criminal court, and forced to navigate criminal proceedings for nearly a year before the charge was dismissed. 

The ACLU filed suit on Bombard’s behalf in 2021, asserting that the initial stop not only violated his rights to be free from unreasonable seizure and false arrest, but also that giving the middle finger to protest a police officer’s actions is free expression protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article Thirteen of the Vermont Constitution.  

Jay Diaz, Senior Attorney, FIRE: “Over the course of our lawsuit, we learned that the Vermont State Police did not have a general First Amendment policy or training for its officers. We wouldn’t tolerate police officers who don’t understand traffic laws or parking laws. Well, the Constitution is the highest law in the land, and it doesn’t allow cops to abuse their power to punish protected speech.” 

Traffic stops are the most common way that people interact with law enforcement, and drivers in Vermont are stopped at a much higher rate than the national average—with severe racial disparities impacting Black and Latinx drivers. Between 2015 and 2019, 255 drivers were stopped in Vermont per 1,000 residents, compared to 86 drivers per 1,000 residents nationwide. During that same period, Vermont sheriffs increased their stops by 86 percent, while Vermont State Police upped theirs by nearly 50 percent. 

Gregory Bombard, Client: “With this settlement, I hope the Vermont State Police will train its troopers to avoid silencing criticism or making baseless car stops. And at least now I can pay my criminal attorney for defending me from the bogus charges and take my 88-year-old mother out for a nice dinner.” 

A copy of the settlement agreement is available here.