Crime

Racial slurs in McDonald's line triggered gunfire. Did judge rule it self-defense?

Unarmed customer shot at while at McDonald’s

Police charged a Miami man with shooting at an unarmed patron at McDonald's. A judge ruled it was self-defense.
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Police charged a Miami man with shooting at an unarmed patron at McDonald's. A judge ruled it was self-defense.

Devin Gibbs just wanted McDonald's.

But the visit to the North Miami-Dade Golden Arches unraveled when another patron accused him of cutting in line to order. That customer, an older white man, suddenly began spouting racial slurs and threats at Gibbs, a young black man. The episode ended with Gibbs in jail — for firing a shot at the irate but unarmed customer, causing panic inside the restaurant.

Nearly three years later, however, Gibbs has been cleared of any crime. He persuaded a Miami judge that he was only acting in self-defense when he fired at Phillip Ledea at the door of the fast food restaurant in December 2015.

A Miami judge this month tossed out felony charges against Gibbs, 25, a part-time dockworker who had gone to McDonald's to pick up a meal for his son the day after Christmas. He had been charged with aggravated battery with a weapon and carrying a concealed weapon. Ledea was not injured in the shooting.

Circuit Judge Veronica Diaz cleared Gibbs under Florida's 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen's duty to retreat before using potentially deadly force to meet a threat. The law also gave judges greater leeway to dismiss cases.

Over the years, judges in Miami have dismissed cases against shooters who killed various people armed with karate skills, a bag full of radios or nothing at all. A tennis instructor is still trying to use the law to beat allegations that he hit a 5-year-old boy with a racket.

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Devin Gibbs

The law came under national scrutiny when police cited it for deciding not to arrest an Orlando-area neighborhood watchman who fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012; the gunman, George Zimmerman, was later charged and acquitted of murder.

In Gibbs' case, defense lawyers argued that Ledea wrongfully believed that Gibbs had cut in front of him in line at McDonald's. They said that triggered a string of "unprovoked" racial slurs from the older man. "I got something for you ... N****r I'll kill you ... N****r I'm gonna shoot you,'" he told Gibbs, according to defense lawyers.

Gibbs left the McDonald's while waiting for his food, video surveillance showed, then came back once Ledea had sat down to eat.

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Phillip Ledea Miami-Dade Police

Gibbs then picked up his own order and left the restaurant. But Ledea suddenly followed "screaming threats" from the open door, according to a defense motion.

Gibbs believed that this time [Ledea] was armed and was coming outside to act on his threat to kill him or do serious bodily harm," lawyers Andrew Rier and Jonathan Jordan wrote in their request to throw out the case.

According to the lawyers, the surveillance video showed Ledea "grab toward his waistband" as though he had a gun.

Gibbs threw down his food, pulled out his own gun and fired one shot, shattering the glass door and sending terrified customers scrambling for cover. Nobody was hit.

Ledea, in a deposition, later admitted he made the threat and he was "going to kick his ass," according to court documents.

The older man, who has a history of arrests, also admitted he drank beer that day and "that he had engaged in fighting other kids ages 18-20."

"I'm a New Yorker, I don't back down from nothing," he said, according to his deposition.

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