'Shooting the bird' may be rude, but it's not a crime

By The Associated Press

HOUSTON — A Texas appeals court has overturned the conviction of a man who was found guilty of disorderly conduct for displaying an offensive gesture referred to as "shooting the bird."

Two years ago, Robert Lee Coggin was charged under an obscure state law that says "a person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly makes an offensive gesture or display in a public place, and the gesture or display tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace."

Coggin, 34, was accused of gesturing at a motorist with his middle finger raised as he drove behind the slow-moving vehicle on U.S. 183 in Lockhart.

Last year, a jury found him guilty of disorderly conduct, saying that he incited an immediate breach of peace with the gesture. The jury fined him $250.

The appeals court in its Oct. 9 ruling said that the gesture is rude, but not necessarily disorderly conduct. It ordered that Coggin be acquitted of the charges, the Houston Chronicle reported in today's editions.

The incident happened in October 2001 in Lockhart. Coggin was tailgating a vehicle driven by John Pastrano, a Caldwell County jailer. Coggin followed Pastrano's car, flashing his lights, and then motioned for the car to move to the right lane, according to court records.

Pastrano pulled over thinking he was being stopped by a police car. As Coggin passed Pastrano, he gestured with his raised middle finger, courts records said.

An angry Pastrano said he called 911. Police stopped Coggin and cited him for disorderly conduct, a Class C misdemeanor.

Pastrano, 24, who now works for the Hays County Sheriff's Department in San Marcos, could not be reached for comment yesterday by the newspaper.

Coggin denies he made the gesture, but says he's glad he spent $15,000 in legal fees to fight the conviction.

"It vindicates me," said Coggin, now an electrical engineer in Austin.