Buena Vista settles flipping off lawsuit prior to trial

DENVER –An attorney for a man who was arrested multiple times for flipping off the Town of Buena Vista and its police officers says the town has paid $95,000 to settle the man’s lawsuit.

 

Richard Lipton claimed in his lawsuit that the town government violated his constitutional right of free speech by arresting him for extending his middle finger toward police officers and toward the town in general as he passed through.

 

He and town officials settled the case on March 2, 6 days before it had been scheduled to go to trial, according to a court document..

 

“This (settlement) is a vindication of the First Amendment not just for Mr. Lipton, but for every resident of Buena Vista and America,” Denver attorney Andy McNulty, who represented Lipton, said.

 

“It puts police on notice that you can’t just arrest someone for saying something or gesturing,” he said.

 

The lawsuit asserted that extending the middle finger in public is “classic free speech,” as defined in court decisions across the United States.

 

The Times reported last year that Lipton sued on June 3 in Denver at the U.S. District Court for Colorado. 

 

Besides the town government, the defendants were officers Randall Hancock and Amber Lee. They denied Lipton’s claims.

 

“The town’s position is that its police officers managed the situation resulting in this lawsuit properly and professionally” town administrator Phillip Puckett said.

 

“Lawsuits of this kind interfere with the town’s ability to provide essential services to town residents, businesses, and visitors,” he said. “The town and its insurer opted to resolve this suit so that its officers could focus on providing their excellent services to the community.”

 

Puckett said he signed the settlement agreement on behalf of town government, but neither confirmed nor denied the amount that was paid to Lipton and his attorney to end the case. 

 

When Lipton filed the lawsuit, he said he was a dissent, homeless and indigent. His lawsuit said he flipped off the entire town because he “has had  previous negative interactions” with Buena Vista. He lived near the town.

 

He was jailed at least on one occasion for 10 days.

 

The lawsuit also claimed the defendants violated his rights against retaliation for exercising free speech, unreasonable seizures and malicious prosecution.

 

Another claim was that Municipal Judge Neil Reynolds in 2017 violated Lipton’s right to have legal counsel appointed at no cost to him, by not appointing a lawyer to represent him as an indigent person.

 

The Times reported on Oct. 23 that the two sides were far apart on how much money the defendants would pay Lipton to drop his lawsuit.

 

Attorney McNulty said the settlement agreement contained a provision in which the town continued to deny Lipton’s claims. 

 

“That’s pretty standard,” McNulty said. “But you don’t pay $95,000 if you’ve not done something wrong.”

 

He said he hopes the outcome of the case changes the practices of Buena Vista police and municipal judge.

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