Baltimore, MD – A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge has rescinded the $38 million award a jury granted to the family of a shotgun-wielding woman who was fatally shot by police as she used her five-year-old son as a human shield.
Although State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger determined that the officer-involved shooting of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines was justified back in 2016, her family claimed that police used excessive force, acted recklessly, and violated Gaines’ rights by allegedly illegally entering her home, according to WJZ.
The lawsuit alleged that Baltimore County Corporal Royce Ruby acted unreasonably when he fired on Gaines during the six-hour standoff in her Randallstown apartment, The Baltimore Sun reported.
The jury of six women awarded over $32 million to Gaines’s son, Kodi, and $4.5 million to her daughter, Karsyn. Gaines’ parents were set to receive a combined $607,000, and her estate was awarded an additional $300,000, according to The Baltimore Sun.
But on Thursday, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Mickey Norman determined that Cpl. Ruby is entitled to qualified immunity, and said he did not violate Gaines’ civil rights during the fatal encounter, The New York Times reported.
“The facts must be examined from the perspective of the officer” in determining whether or not excessive force was used, Norman explained in the 78-page decision.
The incident occurred on Aug. 1, 2016, when officers went to Gaines’ apartment to serve warrants on her and her fiancé, 39-year-old Kareem Courtney, at approximately 9 a.m, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Gaines was wanted for failing to appear for a court hearing, while Courtney had a warrant related to an assault on Gaines, the Owings Mills Patch reported.
The couple refused to open the door, and officers ultimately forced entry with warrants, prosecutors said, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Immediately upon entering the apartment, the first officer was “confronted with Korryn Gaines with a shotgun pointed right at him,” Assistant County Attorney James Ruckle said.
Gaines live-streamed herself holding the weapon during the confrontation on Facebook, according to the Owings Mills Patch.
Courtney exited the apartment with Karsyn, who was an infant at the time, but Gaines kept Kodi inside the apartment and refused to leave.
The ensuing standoff lasted for approximately six hours, and Cpl. Ruby – who was an officer at the time – remained positioned outside the doorway of the apartment unit.
“...there were times when Ms. Gaines spoke calmly and others where she screamed and acted irrationally,” Shellenberger wrote of his investigative findings in 2016, according to the Owings Mills Patch.
“She stated that the police were the devils, that they were crazy, that she had been unjustly kidnapped by the police, that the government had kidnapped her fiancé, that the police were only at her apartment because she was black, that when she and her son were dead the news would report it and the world would know, and it would be worth it as [long as] she took at least one of the officers with her, that she was absolutely not coming out..." Shellenberger wrote.
At times, the armed woman positioned herself behind her young son, using him as a human barrier between herself and the officers.
“What parent puts their kid in front of a shotgun? What parent puts their kid in that kind of unsafe position?” Ruckle asked during the closing arguments, according to the Baltimore Sun.
During the standoff, Cpl. Ruby saw Kodi move into the kitchen area, followed by his mother. The corporal then saw Gaines’ braids – and the shotgun barrel she was raising above a wall.
She then pointed her weapon at Cpl. Ruby, the Owings Mills Patch reported.
“He was a dead man if he didn’t fire. Dead,” Ruckle told the jury, according to The Baltimore Sun.
From the doorway, Cpl. Ruby fired his weapon through a wall in the area where he believed Gaines was standing. He said he also intentionally fired at a height that would be taller than Kodi, just in case the boy was standing close to her.
Police said that Gaines fired two rounds from the shotgun, but no officers were struck, the Owings Mills Patch reported.
A fragment from the first bullet Cpl. Ruby fired struck Kody in the left cheek, but did not penetrate it, Norman noted, according to The New York Times.
Gaines was fatally wounded during the shootout.
“The physical evidence is that she began to raise the shotgun, Corporal Ruby believed she was about to fire the shotgun,” Norman wrote in the decision, according to the New York Daily News. “Corporal Ruby was not required to be absolutely sure of the nature and extent of the threat Gaines posed.”
Kodi’s attorney, Kenneth Ravenell, said that he plans to appeal Norman’s decision, The New York Times reported.
Ravenell alleged that Norman’s opinion was “factually wrong and legally flawed in many respects,” but did not provide details with regards to those allegations.
“Justice was not done today,” he told The Baltimore Sun.
The family’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said he also plans to file an appeal.
“We’re not happy about it, but the bottom line is we get a chance to have a full hearing before an appellate court,” Gordon told The Baltimore Sun.