This week's episode of Criminal examines the legal battles of a man who made it his mission to give the middle finger to every law enforcement officer he saw. Robert Ekas's story raises questions of how "flipping the bird" fits into free speech. Criminal is a podcast recorded at WUNC and hosted by Phoebe Judge.
Judge said Ekas believes there is an accountability issue with American law enforcement. He thinks police officers are given free rein, and that creates an unbalanced society. Since he was a child, Ekas has "flipped the bird" to every police officer as an act of protest.
In 2007, Ekas did just that and found himself face-to-face with an angry cop. The officer pulled Ekas over and gave him two tickets: one for an illegal lane change and one for having a tinted license plate cover.
Ekas went to traffic court and told the judge he believed the cop gave him a ticket because Ekas gave the officer the middle finger.
“If I give a police officer the finger, or if anybody gives a police officer the finger, the police officer has a number of choices of response," Ekas told Judge. "They can wave... They can give you a look of disgust that can only be interpreted as, 'I don’t care what you think.' They can do nothing, or they could pull you over, but the choice is theirs.”
Ekas cited previous court cases and the judge agreed with him and dropped the charged. But Ekas doesn't stop there. Before the statute of limitations runs out, he sues the Clackamas County Sherrif's Office. Eventually, Ekas settles with the law enforcement office for $4,000.
"This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. It’s not even the hundredth time I’ve done this. It’s just something that I do because I have a generally contentious attitude towards law enforcement and the officials who prop up the institutions of our government," Ekas said. "I honestly don't know why more people don't do this."
Ekas is not alone in his retribution. A man in New York City received $20,000 dollars for being arrested after giving a police officer the middle finger, while a man in Pittsburgh received $50,000.