Posts Tagged ‘federal judge’

Judge: Man Who Gave Pittsburgh Cop ‘Finger’ Didn’t Break Law

March 24, 2009

Federal Lawsuit Claims Flip-Off Gesture Is Protected Speech

PITTSBURGH — A federal judge said a man who flipped his middle finger at a Pittsburgh police officer shouldn’t have been cited for disorderly conduct.


David Hackbart, of Pittsburgh, said he made the gesture at another driver while trying to back into a parking space on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill in April 2006.


When he heard someone else yelling at him, Hackbart gave the finger again — not realizing that the second person was a police officer.

“While flipping somebody off or using profane language may not be pleasant, it is constitutionally protected speech, especially when it’s uttered towards a public official,” said Vic Walczak, of the American Civil Liberties Union, when he sued on Hackbart’s behalf in September.


U.S. District Judge David Cercone filed a 19-page decision Monday, agreeing that the gesture was protected under free speech.


Still to be determined at an upcoming trial is whether city police were improperly trained. The ACLU claims city police have filed 188 citations for similar offenses in 2005, 2006 and 2007.



“The police need to understand that they’re not Miss Manners, they can’t be enforcing nice language, and that it’s inappropriate for them to use the criminal laws to punish somebody because they may use profane language,” Walczak said in September.


Court sides with police officers in search case

January 28, 2009

The Associated Press, Wednesday January 21, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police officers in Utah who searched a suspect’s home without a warrant cannot be sued for violating his constitutional rights.

In ruling unanimously for five officers attached to the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force, the court also abandoned a rigid, two-step test that it adopted in 2001 to guide judges in assessing alleged violations of constitutional rights.

Trial and appellate judges “should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion” in evaluating such claims, Justice Samuel Alito said in his opinion for the court.

Under the 2001 ruling, courts first had to determine whether an action amounts to a violation of a constitutional right and then decide whether the public official, often a police officer, should be immune from the civil lawsuit.

Officials can’t be held liable in situations where it is not clearly established that their actions violated someone’s constitutional rights.

The case grew out of a search of the home of Afton Callahan of Millard County, Utah, in 2002.

An informant contacted police to tell them he had arranged to purchase drugs from Callahan at Callahan’s trailer home.

Wearing a microphone provided by police, the informant entered the trailer and signaled police that a deal had been made. They entered the trailer without a warrant and arrested Callahan on charges of possession of methamphetamines.

Utah courts ruled that the evidence that was seized from Callahan’s home could not be used against him. Other courts have allowed prosecutions to go forward under similar circumstances.

Callahan later sued the officers for violating his constitutional rights. A federal judge ruled the officers could not be sued because there is disagreement in the courts over whether the search was illegal.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said the lawsuit could proceed because the officers should have known that people have a right in their home to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The high court said Wednesday that the officers are entitled to immunity from Callahan’s suit.

The case is Pearson v. Callahan, 07-751.