Family of Black Woman Killed in Police Standoff Disputes Official Account

A wrongful-death lawsuit filed this week raises questions about how and why Korryn Gaines was shot.

Screenshot of a video recorded by Korryn Gaines during a March 2016 traffic stop by policeKorryn Gaines

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On Tuesday, the family of Korryn Gaines, the woman killed during a standoff with police in her Randallstown, Maryland, apartment last month, filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore County Police Department alleging wrongful death. The lawsuit, brought by Gaines’ mother and boyfriend, the father of her five-year-old son, alleges that Baltimore County police officers illegally entered Gaines’ apartment, used excessive force, and violated Gaines’ right to free speech by shutting down her Facebook page as she posted videos of the encounter online. The suit seeks $2 million in damages from the officer who shot Gaines and Baltimore County.

On the morning of August 1, Baltimore County police officers arrived at Gaines’ apartment to serve her with an arrest warrant for skipping out on a court hearing related to traffic and misdemeanor charges that arose from a traffic stop. They also sought to serve Gaines’ boyfriend with an arrest warrant on unrelated charges.

According to statements from the Baltimore County police chief at a press conference after the shooting, the officers opened Gaines’ door using a key from her building manager after they heard people inside but no one answered the door. A chain lock prevented officers from entering. But the officers called in a SWAT team after seeing through the door opening that Gaines was seated on the floor with a shotgun and a child nearby, according to the chief. The team kicked in the door, the Baltimore Sun reported, and attempted to negotiate with Gaines for several hours. Gaines aimed her gun in the officers’ direction and verbally threatened them multiple times during the standoff, according to the Baltimore County PD. (It remains unclear how the police were positioned in relation to Gaines throughout the ordeal.) When Gaines eventually pointed her gun at an officer and said she was going to kill him if he didn’t leave, an officer shot at her. Gaines returned fire, and an officer fired again, killing Gaines, according to the police. Gaines’ five-year-old son was also struck in the cheek and elbow but survived. Gaines’ boyfriend, Kareem Courtney, had fled from the back of the apartment with another child and was arrested before the shooting occurred.

A neighbor alleges that the last thing he heard before an officer shot at Gaines was one of the officers saying, “I’m sick of this shit.”

But the Gaines family’s lawsuit raises questions about the police department’s account. According to the lawsuit, Baltimore County police officers commandeered the apartment of Gaines’ next-door neighbor Ramone Coleman during the standoff and set up surveillance equipment so they could monitor what Gaines was doing. Officers did not let Coleman or his infant daughter leave during the standoff, the lawsuit alleges. Coleman said that at one point he heard Gaines say she would come out if officers put their guns down and backed away from her apartment—a request they ignored—according to the suit. He also said police turned away some of Gaines’ relatives who sought to help convince her to cooperate. And Coleman alleges that the last thing he heard before an officer shot at Gaines was one of the officers saying, “I’m sick of this shit.”

The lawsuit accuses the police department of failing to call in its crisis intervention team even after officers saw Gaines inside her apartment with a gun and a child. The team can be deployed for incidents involving suicidal or mentally ill subjects or a “situational crisis,” according to the lawsuit—something the police department concedes it did not do.

During the standoff, Gaines recorded several videos and posted them to Facebook, until the social-media company complied with law enforcement’s request during the standoff to deactivate her account. Police officials have said some users were commenting on Gaines’ videos and encouraging her not to cooperate with them, which they said was interfering with their attempt to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff. The lawsuit further contends that Gaines’ right to free speech was violated by the shutdown of her Facebook account, which “stopped the only independent visual record of what was taking place before [the officer] killed her.”

Baltimore County police officials have only released the last name, Ruby, of the officer who shot Gaines. That officer is a 16-year veteran of the police department and was also involved in another 2007 shooting, according to the Associated Press.

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore County PD declined to comment on the pending litigation. The spokeswoman previously told the Baltimore Sun that the department had confirmed that its officers met all the legal criteria necessary for them to enter Gaines’ apartment and serve an arrest warrant.

You can read the full lawsuit below.



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