During a recent drive to work, Shane Boor indulged in one of America's favorite pastimes: He flipped someone the bird. Trouble is, the person he aimed it at was a Colorado State Patrol officer so unamused that he had a fellow trooper track Boor down and give him a criminal summons. Enter the ACLU, which is defending Boor -- and the idea that giving the finger is constitutionally protected.
"Our right to free expression allows us not only gestures that are permissible in polite society," says ACLU of Colorado campaign director Erik Maulbetsch, "but rude ones as well."
According to Maulbetsch, Boor, a 35-year-old with no criminal record, was driving to work last month when he saw an officer -- identified in the incident report only as Trooper White -- pull over a car on C-470 near the Bowles exit. As he was passing, Maulbetsch notes, "he extended his middle finger toward the state trooper in silent disapproval of what he felt was unjustified harassment of a motorist" before continuing on his way.
Boor arrived at his job safely. But shortly thereafter, another trooper, ID'd as Trooper Langrand, arrived. "He asked about the gesture," Maulbetsch says, "and then he gave Mr. Boor a summons to appear in Jefferson County court on the criminal charge of harassment."
At this point, Boor's court date is set for June 15, but Maulbetsch is hoping it doesn't happen. "We're encouraging the district attorney to dismiss the case." And if he doesn't, the ACLU will have an attorney stand alongside Boor next month to fight the charge.
The controversy may seem frivolous at first blush, but Maulbetsch sees it as having a more important subtext.
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"We've been spending a lot of time on police practices and police-brutality issues," he points out -- an example being an ACLU investigation that showed the City of Denver has paid more than $10 million to settle claims against police and sheriff's officers since 2002. "And for troopers to take the time to track someone down at his work site and charge him with harassment for driving by and extending his middle finger -- well, there's clearly a culture shift that needs to happen throughout Colorado police agencies to address this."
The bottom line for Maulbetsch? "Police officers need to develop thicker skin."
Because, after all, there are a lot of birds being flipped out there.
More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Richard Troupe charged with dropping trou at Burger King, asking staffer to hold his Whopper."