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United States v. Gibbs

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 6, 2019

REGINALD WAYNE GIBBS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court No. 1:16-cr-20927-FAM-1 for the Southern District of Florida

          Before MARCUS and DUBINA, Circuit Judges, and GOLDBERG, [*] Judge.


         Reginald Gibbs appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence -- a firearm recovered from his person by police -- after conditionally pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Since Gibbs's encounter with the police was part of a lawful traffic stop, and the seizure of the firearm from his pocket was likewise lawful, we affirm the judgment of the district court.


         The essential facts are these. Around 5:40 p.m. on the evening of November 30, 2016, Detective Erick Lopez of the Miami-Dade Police Department was on patrol in the area of 62nd Street and Northwest 17th Avenue in Miami, Florida. According to Lopez, this was a "high crime area" "known to have a high inciden[ce] of shootings." Detective Lopez has been a member of the Crime Suppression Team and was assigned to that team for some six years. Lopez recounted that he had investigated two shootings in the area. Along with Detective Jonathan Dweck, Lopez also had investigated an incident in which a person pulled a handgun on several other individuals but ultimately did not shoot anyone.

         Detective Lopez was traveling eastbound in his unmarked police car on 62nd Street -- a two-lane street with one lane going east and one going west. Lopez saw a black Audi sedan that was traveling westbound pull into the oncoming traffic of the eastbound lane and come to a stop. The black Audi was thus parked head-on to the oncoming traffic and obstructed the flow of traffic in the eastbound lane. After stopping in the middle of the street, the driver of the Audi exited the vehicle.

         Lopez, who was in the eastbound lane, passed the Audi, continued eastbound to the end of the block, made a U-turn, and parked his car behind the Audi. Before turning around, Lopez radioed to see if other officers were in the neighborhood to assist him in stopping the driver of the Audi and issuing a citation for obstructing the flow of traffic. Lopez called for backup because, he said, he was concerned that there might be an altercation when he cited the driver, offering that traffic stops sometimes escalate when people become upset. Detective Jonathan Dweck responded that he was "just a couple of seconds away" and agreed to assist. Dweck, also in an unmarked police car, pulled up and parked in front of the Audi. Both officers were in plain clothes, both wore tactical vests with the word "police" on the front, and both officers activated the lights on their unmarked cars as they pulled up.

         It is undisputed that, when the detectives exited their vehicles, the black Audi's engine was still running, its headlights were on, and it was blocking traffic. No one was in the Audi. JD Jones, the driver of the Audi, was standing just outside, between the Audi and another car parked on a gravel shoulder area next to the road. The space between the two cars was just wide enough for two people to stand there. The appellant, Reginald Wayne Gibbs, was standing next to the driver, Jones, and both men stood right next to the black Audi. Gibbs was never a passenger in the Audi, but approached Jones just after he stopped his vehicle and joined Jones in the space between the two cars. When Officers Lopez and Dweck approached, Jones and Gibbs were "basically channeled between the[] two cars." Lopez approached from the back of the Audi and Dweck approached from the front. Thus, Jones and Gibbs would not have been able to leave without going through Lopez or Dweck or vaulting over one of the vehicles. Lopez agreed that they effectively blocked Gibbs from leaving.

         Detective Lopez, who had observed the Audi's traffic violation, was aware that Jones was the driver of the Audi, and thus focused his attention on Jones. Dweck did not know which of the two men -- Gibbs or Jones -- had been the driver of the Audi. He testified that neither of them was free to leave until he determined who was the owner or driver of the Audi and issued a traffic citation. Both detectives testified that they were not investigating Gibbs for anything else when they arrived at the scene.

         Dweck approached Gibbs first because Gibbs stood closest to him. As he approached, Gibbs put his hands up over his head. Dweck testified that, when he first pulled up in his vehicle, he noticed Gibbs looking around to the left and right and explained that, in his experience, the way Gibbs was looking around suggested that he might be preparing to flee. Before he was asked anything by the detectives, and almost immediately upon seeing Dweck, Gibbs said this: "Officer, I'm going to be honest. I have a gun on me." The district court found that the entire encounter from the moment Lopez and Dweck exited their vehicles, to the time Gibbs made his statement, took just a matter of seconds.

         After Gibbs said he had a gun, Dweck asked Gibbs whether he had a permit for the firearm; Gibbs responded "No, I don't." Gibbs informed Dweck that the gun was in his back pocket. Dweck alerted Lopez to the presence of the firearm, handcuffed Gibbs and directed Lopez to get a camera and gloves. Lopez retrieved those items and photographed the loaded .22 caliber Jimenez Arms pistol in Gibbs's back pocket. The officers arrested Gibbs for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

         Witnesses Javari Irving and Markedia Johnson, both relatives of Gibbs, testified at the suppression hearing that the officers exited their vehicles with their weapons drawn. Irving and Johnson were standing a short distance away from the Audi, outside a nearby apartment complex where they both lived. Irving was standing between the apartment's dumpster and a wooded area, talking to a friend, and Johnson was located just outside her front door watching her children play. Irving said that he saw an officer approaching Gibbs with his gun drawn. Johnson added that she saw two officers approach Gibbs with their weapons drawn and yell "get down." Lopez and Dweck denied drawing their weapons when they exited their vehicles, or, indeed, at any time during the ...

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