United States v. Matchett, No. 14-10396 (11th Cir. Sept. 21, 2015).
At 9 in the morning on a Tuesday, a police officer spotted Calvin Matchett carrying a large, unboxed flat-screen TV down a street. The officer got out of his car and told Matchett that he wasn’t in trouble, but that he thought it was “kind of odd” to be walking down the sidewalk in the morning carrying an unboxed TV.
Matchett said he was carrying the TV to a friend’s house down the street. The officer asked him for ID “in case someone later reported the television as stolen.” At that point, the officer later testified, Matchett tensed up and started looking around as if he was going to flee. The officer said he was concerned that Matchett might have a burglary tool that could be used as a weapon, so he patted Matchett down and found a gun. Matchett then tried to run away. A scuffle ensued, but eventually Matchett was taken into custody.
Charged with being a felon in possession, Matchett moved to suppress the gun. The motion was denied, and the Eleventh Circuit now affirms.
The officer had reasonable suspicion to stop Matchett initially. While there might have been an innocent explanation for Matchett’s behavior, there was also a suspicious one, particularly since burglaries were allegedly common in the neighborhood. That was enough to justify a Terry stop, the court says.
The pat-down was also justified because the officer reasonably believed his safety was in danger. Matchett tensed up once he was asked for ID. He “wore baggy jeans that … could conceal a weapon.” Plus, the officer knew from experience that burglars often carry weapons—and remember that, according to the Eleventh Circuit, the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe Matchett was a burglar.
Without necessarily disagreeing with the result here, I also don’t want to ignore the larger context. The police force of the majority-black city in which Matchett was arrested—Miami Gardens, Florida—has a history of falsifying documents to justify arrests post hoc. The police have also Terry-stopped more than half the population of Miami Gardens. One Miami Gardens man has been stopped more than 200 times in four years, with 56 resulting arrests, but no convictions other than marijuana possession. He has even been arrested for trespassing in his own place of business.