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Department Pays Man Who Gave Officer 'The Bird'

Department Pays Man Who Gave Officer 'The Bird'

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Kansas City Star via YellowBrix

April 16, 2010

OLATHE, KS – There is no doubt about it — people can legally give police officers the finger and tell them “f…you.”

It isn’t polite, but the Olathe Police Department found out recently that responding with a ticket can be costly.

In the latest in a long line of such cases nationwide, Olathe last week agreed that its insurance company would pay $5,000 after an officer ticketed a man for disorderly conduct for those two actions.

The driver, Scott Schaper, will get $4,000 and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri will get $1,000 for legal fees. Olathe police also must train officers that they have to take such abuse.

Schaper used the finger and expletive in September, after an officer gave him a ticket for failing to yield at a stop sign.

He did it because he was taking his children to school and the traffic stop caused them to cry, said Doug Bonney, legal director for the ACLU chapter.

Courts nationwide have long held that when it comes to such cases, “saying (f…you) and using one’s middle finger to express discontent or frustration is expressive of conduct protected by the First Amendment,” he said.

In words that ring as a warning to police, Bonney said, “This is one of my favorite cases; I love the right to cuss.”

Olathe police referred questions to city spokesman Tim Danneberg, who said, “we will learn from it and go forward.”

While people can do such things, he said, “I don’t think it makes it appropriate for them to treat anyone that way.”

Any concerns the case will lead to a local decline in civility?

“I would say it’s Olathe, Kan.,” said Danneberg, where people are rarely going to behave in such a manner.

Wes Jordan, the outgoing president of an association of Johnson County police chiefs and the sheriff, said most departments train with “verbal judo” to teach officers to take some abuse.

“It’s not easy,” he said, “but it’s one of the requirements of the job.”

While police have to take it, don’t try to extend that finger or use the word in court.

Legal scholars say such behavior toward a judge can get you jailed for contempt.

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