MONTPELIER, Vt. – Gregory Bombard’s lawsuit challenging a retaliatory arrest by Vermont State Police Trooper Jay Riggen will proceed after the State’s motion to dismiss was denied in its entirety yesterday. Represented by the ACLU of Vermont and cooperating counsel Gary Sarachan, Bombard asserts that his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated during a traffic stop in February 2018. The State advanced several grounds for dismissing the case, all of which were rejected by Superior Court Judge Robert A. Mello.
ACLU of Vermont Senior Staff Attorney Jay Diaz: “This area of law is well-known and straightforward: offensive speech is still constitutionally protected. Vermonters who protest the actions of police through words or gestures have the right to do so without facing retaliation and arrest. This was a clear abuse of power and just one more example of why officers need to be held accountable for their actions when they violate people’s rights. We are gratified to see this case moving forward.”
On February 9, 2018, in St. Albans, Trooper Jay Riggen stopped Gregory Bombard’s vehicle because he believed Bombard made an obscene gesture. Bombard denied making any such gesture, but after being harangued and detained by Riggen for several minutes, Bombard then cursed and displayed his middle finger. Riggen stopped Bombard again, ordered him from his vehicle, and arrested him for disorderly conduct. Riggen continued berating Bombard and ordered the towing of Bombard’s car. Bombard was jailed for over an hour, cited to criminal court, and was forced to navigate a criminal proceeding for nearly a year before the charge was finally dismissed.
Bombard asserts the initial stop violated his rights to be free from unreasonable seizure and false arrest, and that the gesture at issue is a form of free expression protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article Thirteen of the Vermont Constitution.
Bombard’s stop is another example of overpolicing in Vermont. A recent study found that Vermont police stopped residents at nearly four times the rate of the national average in 2019, and that Vermont State Police stops have increased nearly 50% since 2015. Drivers in Vermont who were identified as Black or Hispanic were stopped and search at significantly higher rates relative to the national average, despite being less likely than white drivers to be found with contraband. Studies of Vermont police data released in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2020 all reached similar conclusions.
The Court’s ruling can be found here
The complaint can be found here.