A homeless man in Leesburg was arrested for felony gun possession after law enforcement found a firearm he had hidden in an acquaintance’s car during a traffic stop.
Police observed a green Honda passenger car with its passenger side headlight not working on U.S. Hwy. 27/441 at about 11:38 p.m. Monday, according to an arrest report from the Fruitland Park Police Department.
The officer conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle and spoke with the driver and right rear passenger, later identified as 25-year-old Tavis Stewart, the report said. The officer explained the reason for the stop and asked the driver for his license, which he provided without issue. Stewart was visibly nervous, mumbling his words, avoiding eye contact and shaking when asked for his information.
As the officer returned to this patrol car to finish the traffic stop, a K-9 unit from the Lady Lake Police Department arrived on scene. The narcotic detection K-9 conducted a free-air sniff on the outside of the vehicle and positively alerted to the odor of narcotics, the report said.
The officers then removed the occupants from the vehicle to conduct a search of its compartments. One of the officers pulled the rear center armrest down, which revealed a door leading directly to the trunk. He opened the door and observed a multicolor shirt. As he began to pull it through the door, he noticed a revolver style handgun resting on top of the shirt, the report said.
The firearm was positioned with the barrel facing the rear of the vehicle and the grip facing the front. Based on this, it appeared to have been placed there from the inside of the vehicle, not from opening the trunk from the outside. The officer removed the firearm and four live .22 caliber rounds from the cylinder, the report said.
Upon further inspection of the firearm, the officer noticed the serial number appeared to have been partially altered making it difficult to read. He tried running a possible number with negative results. Due to the firearm’s deteriorated state, he was unable to determine the make or model but confirmed it was a .22 caliber, the report said.
Both of the occupants were detained in handcuffs as a result of the discovery. Stewart became agitated and confrontational while the driver remained cooperative. When questioned, the driver advised that he was unaware of the firearm or to whom it could possibly belong. He only knew Stewart as an acquaintance and was providing him with a ride to a store. He stated the shirt that the firearm rested on belonged to him, but he was not aware it was inside the vehicle, the report said.
Stewart refused to speak with law enforcement about the firearm. However, he began arguing with officers when he was placed under arrest shortly after. He spoke at a volume at which he was easily understood versus his mumbling at the time of initial contact, the report said.
A criminal history check revealed Stewart had four felony convictions. He was also currently on felony probation, the report said.
Stewart was charged with felon in possession of firearm and felon in possession of a firearm with altered serial number. He was transported to the Lake County Jail with bond set at $20,000.