Federal court rules cops can't arrest you just for swearing at them

The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a US District Court decision that refused to throw out a civil lawsuit against an Arkansas police officer who arrested a man who yelled a curse word at the officer as he conducted a traffic stop on another citizen.

According to court documents, in 2015 Arkansas State Trooper Lagarian Cross was performing a traffic stop on a Fort Smith highway when he heard a passerby yell “f*ck you” out of the window of a moving car.

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The remark prompted Cross to end his traffic stop and pursue the car. After making the stop, Cross arrested Eric Roshaun Thurairajah on a charge of disorderly conduct, stating the profanity constituted “unreasonable or excessive noise.”

After spending eight hours barefoot in a jail cell with a toilet that had overflowed, he filed suit against Cross, alleging that the trooper violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him unjustly.

Cross spent hours in jail court records say before the charge was dropped and he was released under his own recognizance. 

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The state trooper Cross attempted to have the case thrown out, citing qualified immunity—a legal doctrine that shields government officials from lawsuits—but was denied by the US District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.

In that 2017 ruling, the court ruled Cross’s arrest violated Thurairajah’s clearly established rights under the Constitution, voiding his qualified immunity protection.  On Monday, the 8th Circuit upheld the District Court’s ruling, allowing Thurairajah to proceed in his lawsuit against Cross. W. Whitfield Hyman, Thurairajah’s attorney, called the court’s decision a win for free speech. 

“This was a simple case about freedom of expression that is a small step forward for protecting personal freedom,” Hyman said.

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