Federal Appeals Court Upholds First Amendment Right To Warn Drivers of Police Ahead
A federal appeals court ruled that a Connecticut man’s First Amendment rights were violated when police arrested him for holding a sign warning drivers of police activity ahead.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reversed a lower court decision and held that a police officer in Stamford, Connecticut, violated Michael Friend’s First Amendment rights and had no probable cause to arrest him for standing on a public sidewalk and holding a sign that read “Cops Ahead.”
Friend was standing on a sidewalk near a Stamford police checkpoint on April 12, 2018, holding a “Cops Ahead” sign when Sgt. Richard Gasparino approached Friend, took his sign, and threatened to arrest him. Friend instead made a larger sign and moved to a different spot. Gasparino then handcuffed and arrested Friend, who was charged with misdemeanor interference and held on a $25,000 bail. Prosecutors later dropped the charge.
Friend, represented by the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed a civil rights lawsuit, arguing that Gasparino’s seizure of his signs and his arrest violated Friend’s First and Fourth Amendment rights.
A U.S. district court dismissed Friend’s suit in 2020, finding that: Friend’s sign “did not discuss a topic or express his opinion on it;” that Gasparino had a compelling government interest in stopping Friend from spoiling the police sting; and that Gasparino had probable cause to arrest Friend for re
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