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United States v. Sykes

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 30, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Airrington L. Sykes Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: October 18, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Waterloo

          Before WOLLMAN, ARNOLD, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.


         After the government indicted Airrington Sykes for being a felon in possession of a firearm, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), he moved to suppress evidence that a police officer obtained after he stopped Sykes and frisked him. When the district court[1] denied the motion, Sykes pleaded guilty to the charge but reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion. He appeals and we affirm.

         On a December evening just shy of midnight, a police officer in Waterloo, Iowa, was dispatched to a 24-hour laundromat where he met a woman in the parking lot who reported finding a loaded handgun magazine in a laundry basket. She explained that the only other people in the laundromat at the time she discovered the magazine were two men dressed in black. She stated she was unsure if they had anything to do with the magazine, but she noticed they had stood near her basket at one point. She said that the men were still in the laundromat, though other people had since arrived.

         The officer entered the laundromat and began approaching the two men in question. His body camera shows that, when he entered the aisle where the men stood, one of the men, Sykes, turned and began walking away. The officer attempted to intercept Sykes at a back corner of the laundromat near an exit and a bathroom. The officer's body camera shows Sykes bypass the exit, enter the restroom, and close the door. Moments later the officer opened the restroom door and told Sykes to "give me one second" and that he needed "one second of [his] time." Sykes complied, and the officer grabbed Sykes's sleeve and guided him out of the restroom. He then patted Sykes for weapons and discovered a handgun in Sykes's pants pocket.

         Sykes's primary argument on appeal is that the officer lacked a reasonable suspicion that Sykes was committing a crime. The government disagrees, responding that Iowa Code § 724.4(1), which makes it an aggravated misdemeanor for someone to go "armed with a dangerous weapon concealed on or about the person," supplied the legal basis for the stop. Sykes counters that the officer had no reason to believe that he lacked a permit for the gun or that he was anything other than a lawful gun carrier.

         We recently decided a case that presented this very issue. See United States v. Pope, 910 F.3d 413 (8th Cir. 2018). We held in Pope that an officer in Iowa may briefly detain someone whom the officer reasonably believes is possessing a concealed weapon. Id. at 416. We explained that, since a concealed-weapons permit is merely an affirmative defense to a charge under § 724.4(1), an officer may presume that the suspect is committing a criminal offense until the suspect demonstrates otherwise. Id. at 415-16. We therefore reject Sykes's contention.

         Sykes also argues that the officer lacked a reasonable suspicion that he even possessed a gun. We disagree. It is true that this case is unlike Pope, where an officer saw the suspect conceal a weapon in his pants. But here we have a report from a known person with whom the officer had an extensive discussion and who asserted that she found a loaded handgun magazine of unknown origins; and she identified the only two people who had access to the location where the magazine was found. We think it reasonable to suspect that a person with loaded handgun magazines may have a handgun since, without the handgun, the magazines are of little use. We also believe it was reasonable to suspect that Sykes or his companion had a concealed gun, as opposed to a gun openly carried, since the woman who found the magazine never reported that she actually saw a gun in Sykes's or his companion's possession. And the officers who approached Sykes never testified to seeing a gun being openly displayed, either through the windows of the laundromat or during their approach of Sykes. See United States v. Polite, 910 F.3d 384, 388 (8th Cir. 2018).

         We want to emphasize that we give no weight to the fact that Sykes turned and walked away from the officers as they approached him. Though a person's unprovoked "flight" from police may be considered in the reasonable-suspicion calculus, a person's decision during a consensual police encounter "to ignore the police and go about his business" cannot. See Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124-26 (2000). After reviewing the body-camera video ourselves, we think Sykes's avoidance of the officer lies near the intersection of these two principles. But we need not decide the legal significance, if any, of Sykes's walking away from the officer because we think the officer had reasonable suspicion to detain Sykes even before Sykes began to leave.

         Sykes suggests that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion at that point because he had no reason to suspect that Sykes, as opposed to the other person present, was engaged in criminal activity, and the Fourth Amendment requires "a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity." See United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981). As he sees it, "nothing points to Sykes possessing the firearm instead of his friend."

         For stop-and-frisk purposes, however, the Fourth Amendment does not require that an officer must suspect only one person to the exclusion of all others. "[T]he simultaneous stopping of multiple 'suspects' for a one-person crime may sometimes be justified by the virtual certainty that the perpetrator is a member of that group and that means of singling him out will soon be available." 4 Wayne R. LaFave, Search & Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment § 9.5(b) (5th ed. Oct. 2018). The Third Circuit's decision in United States v. Ramos nicely illustrates this principle. 443 F.3d 304 (3d Cir. 2006). There, when police officers drove between two vehicles in an otherwise empty parking lot, one of the officers smelled marijuana. After one of the vehicles left the lot, the officers conducted a traffic stop and discovered illegal contraband. A defendant in the vehicle argued that the officers' stop violated the Fourth Amendment because the officers' suspicion of him was not sufficiently particularized since the odor could have been coming from the other vehicle. The Third Circuit disagreed, holding that "it would have been reasonable for the officers to conclude that the odor was coming from one, the other, or both vehicles," and so their suspicion was sufficiently particularized under the Fourth Amendment to allow them to stop the vehicle they stopped. Id. at 309.

         We conclude that it would likewise have been reasonable here for the officer to suspect that Sykes, his companion, or both were carrying a concealed firearm, so we detect no constitutional violation. In the abstract, we recognize that as the number of suspects to be stopped increases, it will be less likely that suspicion will be sufficiently particularized to meet constitutional standards. Various considerations will bear on whether a given search is particularized enough in the circumstances. The key, as is typical in the Fourth Amendment context, is reasonableness, see Cty. of L.A. v. Mendez, 137 S.Ct. 1539, 1546 ...

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