N. Carolina court: Middle finger didn't warrant traffic stop

Posted at 3:22 PM, May 18, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's high court says a trooper wasn't justified to pull over a driver whom he says flashed his middle finger out the window.

The state Supreme Court on Friday ruled that evidence showed Trooper Paul Stevens lacked reasonable suspicion to pull over Shawn Patrick Ellis for disorderly conduct three years ago.

According to court documents , Trooper Stevens and another officer were helping a stranded motorist in January 2017.

While helping out the motorist, Trooper Stevens noticed Ellis in another car first waving his hand back-and-forth then changing it to a pumping up-and-down with his middle finger, court records stated.

The trooper ultimately cited Ellis for resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer.

During the initial trial, court records stated, the judge ruled not to suppress the trooper's testimony and that the trooper had a reason to stop Ellis, which Ellis appealed.

The Court of Appeals also favored the trial judge's decision, court documents said.

In an opinion , Associate Justice Robin Hudson wrote that the trooper didn't know whether Ellis' gesture was directed at him or another driver. Justice Hudson also wrote that while pursuing Ellis, the trooper didn't observe traffic violations or other suspicious behavior.

"The mere fact that the defendant's gesture changed from waving to 'flipping the bird' is insufficient to conclude the defendant's conduct was likely to cause a breach of the peace," Hudson wrote.