Man shot by Baltimore police last fall acquitted by jury of all serious charges related to incident

A man shot by Baltimore police last fall after authorities said he got out of his vehicle holding a loaded handgun was acquitted Wednesday by a jury of all serious charges related to the incident, his attorney said.

Jurors took about three hours to find Richard Gibbs Jr., 29, not guilty of felony handgun possession, carrying and transporting a gun in a vehicle, and resisting arrest, said defense attorney Richard C.B. Woods.

A judge dismissed a second-degree assault charge before it went to the jury, he said. Gibbs was convicted of driving without a license.

In November, police said Gibbs was pulled over in the 1000 block of N. Monroe St. near the Western District police station because he was driving a car with an "obliterated" license plate. He stepped out of the vehicle holding a loaded gun and was shot once, police said.

"He had the gun in his hand, and at that point, when two uniformed police officers approach you on a traffic stop in marked patrol cars, it's probably not a good idea to have a gun in your hand when you're exiting a vehicle," police spokesman T.J. Smith said at the time.

Woods said the officers' accounts didn't stand up to scrutiny at trial.

Woods said the officer who fired at Gibbs, Jeffrey Melo, took the stand and testified that he did not see a gun but had reacted to his veteran partner's yelling out, "Gun!"

Police said they recovered a gun at the scene — a revolver that had been spray-painted black and which police said was loaded with five rounds — and it had Gibbs' DNA on it.

But Woods said he argued to the jury that the gun had been planted, and suggested officers had brushed the weapon against the steering wheel to pick up Gibbs' DNA. Police testified the gun had been thrown into the air during a struggle and landed on the hood of the vehicle, Woods said, but he noted there was no scratch or dent on the hood.

Woods said Gibbs' DNA was not found on the gun cartridges and that an unidentified Police Department staffer's DNA was lifted from the cartridges.

Gene Ryan, the president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police union, said he was stunned to hear that a jury had acquitted in a case involving a suspect's DNA on a weapon.

"Physical evidence is the strongest you can produce," Ryan said. "Talk about going down the wrong road. That makes no sense to me."

A week before Gibbs' trial, city prosecutors cleared the officers involved of criminal wrongdoing.

After Wednesday's acquittal, prosecutors released the report clearing the officers, which cited the DNA on the gun and the officers' observations, and concluded that "it would be objectively reasonable for the officer to conclude that his and other officers' safety was at risk leading him to protect himself and others by utilizing force."

Melo did not speak with investigators, invoking his right to remain silent. Two other officers said they saw Gibbs reaching down to the car floor for the gun, then saw the gun fly up in the air onto the hood of the car.

A civilian witness said they saw police reach into the vehicle to retrieve the gun; another said they had live-streamed the shooting on Facebook and saw Gibbs with his arms raised, but authorities said they were unable to find the footage, according to the report.

The officers involved were not wearing body cameras, authorities said. Body camera footage from an officer who arrived later captured an officer asking a witness about the gun: "Didn't you see a gun?" the officer asks. "I didn't see a gun ... I saw you shoot him," the witness replies.

According to the Police Department's website, an administrative review of the shooting is pending.

Woods said Gibbs has a 9-inch scar across his chest from surgery to repair a collapsed lung as a result of the shooting.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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