What can a cop do when someone flips them off?

When human reaction and the first amendment butt heads.


By Daniel Linskey

You may have seen the video of the guy from Framingham, MA who got pulled over for flipping off a police officer. The encounter was, of course, posted on YouTube for all to see.

 

The facts are undisputed and play out like this: Harold Wolfe, a known critic of law enforcement, and his passenger were driving by Framingham Police Officer Jeffery Derosa. Harold Wolfe’s passenger extended a middle finger and very blatantly told Officer Derosa without provocation what he thought of him and the badge on his chest. At that point, Officer Derosa had what one on my best bosses used to describe as a spontaneous human reaction.

He decided to pull over the vehicle that contained these two men who showed such contempt for him and the citizens for whom he serves. These men were rude, without class, and disrespectful. But here’s the thing:

Officer Derosa was wrong to pull them over.

You see, the public’s right to give the finger to a police officer is protected by the first amendment. We might not like it. We may think the man who did it is an uneducated jerk with nothing better to do with his life than disrespect and alienate a hardworking police officer. However, that’s his right. He has the right to give police officers the finger and to be able to drive away without being stopped.

Officer Derosa pulled over the vehicle and confronted the driver and the passenger. He didn’t say the stop was due to speed or driving erratically. He didn’t allege impeded operation or failing to signal. Officer Derosa did not make up a reason for the stop. He was honest and forthright about why he pulled them over. He was pissed off that someone had given him the finger.

Rightfully so. That’s what all humans would feel. Officer Derosa was absolutely justified in having a spontaneous human reaction. However, Officer Derosa wasn’t hired to be human. He was hired to be a cop.

After the incident, Harold Wolfe sent a written complaint to Police Chief Ken Ferguson and the Board of Selectmen for being unjustly pulled over. Chief Ferguson took the complaint and evaluated what happened. Office Derosa was honest and relayed the details of the incident. The chief, in turn, showed true leadership in acknowledging that Officer Derosa had made a mistake. He also realized that there was no need for an extended drawn out Internal Affairs investigation, nor need for discipline.

Instead he used the incident as an opportunity to remind his officers that no matter how distasteful someone’s actions are, they have a constitutional right to express their opinion. He conducted training and reminded officers of their responsibility to allow the public to be rude to them if they are so inclined.

On behalf of law enfrocment officers everywhere, I want to thank and commend Officer Derosa who reacted – as any human being would have – but maintained honesty and integrity throughout the process. I also want to thank and commend Chief Ken Ferguson who realized that a mistake had been made, but that there was no need to make a long drawn out federal case over it. He chose to respond by conducting a quick training. This was the best response.

And lastly, I want to thank the passenger who started this whole incident by expressing his contempt for Officer Derosa and the community he serves. As a result, he has made the officers better informed and the community of Framingham more supportive of their officers.

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