CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court in Cincinnati has ruled that “raising” a middle finger at a police officer is protected as free speech.

In a ruling filed this week, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said: “Any reasonable officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”

The case stems from a 2017 traffic stop in suburban Detroit.

Taylor police Officer Matthew Minard pulled over Debra Cruise-Gulyas for speeding. Minard apparently decided to show leniency and wrote a ticket for a lesser violation.

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The 6th Circuit’s opinion describes what happened next like this: As Cruise-Gulyas drove away, she “repaid Minard’s kindness by raising her middle finger at him.”

Minard then pulled her over a second time, less than 100 yards from where the initial stop happened, according to the opinion. He changed the ticket to a speeding violation.

Cruise-Gulyas then sued the officer.  

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit said her gesture did not violate any identified law. Minard, it said, “clearly lacked authority to stop Cruise-Gulyas a second time.”

“Minard should have known better,” the opinion says.

It pointed to a 2013 ruling by another appeals court that said the “ancient gesture of insult” does not give police “a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity.”

Minard’s attorneys had sought to have Cruise-Gulyas’ lawsuit thrown out, saying “qualified immunity” protected him from liability. The 6th Circuit said that protection doesn’t apply if an officer violates a person’s constitutional rights. 

Cruise-Gulyas’ attorney, Hammad Khan, said he was pleased with both federal court rulings in the case. He declined further comment because the lawsuit remains pending. 

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Follow Kevin Grasha on Twitter: @kgrasha


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