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Florida Man Arrested After He Flipped Off Pittsburgh Cop; Settles First Amendment Claim for $50,000

by Christopher Zoukis

David Hackbart, a Tampa, Florida, resident, agreed to a $50,000 settlement with the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a Pittsburgh police officer, after being cited for disorderly conduct when he accidentally gave the middle finger to the officer.

     On April 10, 2006, Hackbart was attempting to parallel park when a vehicle pulled up behind him, preventing him from being able to back into the spot. Hackbart turned around in his seat and flipped off the driver behind him. He said he heard someone yell, "Don't flip that driver off!" So he turned around and gave the finger in that direction, too.

     The person Hackbart flipped off happened to be Pittsburgh Police Sergeant Brian Elledge, who was driving in the opposite direction. Elledge turned around, pulled Hackbart over, and gave him a citation for disorderly conduct. He was found guilty by a district magistrate, but after Hackbart appealed, the conviction was dropped by the assistant district attorney.

     Hackbart sued Elledge and the city claiming that his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated by being wrongfully given a citation for protected expression. He claimed to have suffered stress and anxiety from the possibility of serving jail time and from the numerous flights required between Florida and Pennsylvania for court appearances. He sought $500 to $600 for lost wages and travel expenses, as well as damages for emotional distress.

     The defendants denied the allegations, arguing that Hackbart created a hazard by blocking traffic, forcing the motorists behind him to enter oncoming traffic in order to get around him. Elledge admitted, however, that he issued the citation under the wrong subsection, A3, when it should have been under subsection A4. The city maintained that it provided sufficient information on protected speech and appropriate responses to profane words and gestures in its officers' training.

     The parties agreed to a settlement of $50,000 on the first day of the trial.

See: Hackbart v. City of Pittsburgh, et al., United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Division, Case No. 2:07-cv-00157-DSC (Nov. 20, 2009)


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Related legal case

Hackbart v. City of Pittsburgh, et al., United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Division