BALTIMORE – Attorneys representing the family of a woman fatally shot by police following a standoff she posted on social media filed a wrongful death suit Tuesday.
Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said the officers shot and killed Korryn Gaines, 23, after she barricaded herself inside her Randallstown apartment with her 5-year-old son and pointed a shotgun at officers attempting to serve an arrest warrant. The warrant was on charges stemming from a March 10 traffic stop that included disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
But lawyers representing Gaines' family tell a different story: They contend that officers fired a shot at Gaines not because they feared for their safety, but because they ran out of patience after a seven-hour standoff. The standoff received widespread attention when Gaines posted video footage on Facebook until police had her account taken down. Police Chief Jim Johnson has said that people who saw the post were encouraging her not to comply with the officers.
A lawsuit filed by attorney J. Wyndal Gordon against the police officer and Baltimore County contends that officers illegally entered Gaines' apartment after persuading the manager of her apartment complex to give them a key despite the fact that nobody answered the door when officers knocked.
The suit also says that Gaines' neighbor, Ramone Coleman, heard Gaines ask to inspect the warrant, but the officers refused. Coleman also said special forces officers "seized" his apartment to use it as an outpost and drilled holes in the living room, bedroom and bathroom walls in order to monitor Gaines' movements with surveillance equipment.
The police department has identified the officer who shot Gaines as Officer First Class Ruby, using only his last name and rank, per departmental policy. Armacost declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.
Ruby was one of two officers who shot and killed 24-year-old Adam Benjamin Rothstein after he pointed what turned out to be a pellet gun at the officers. Armacost said officers received a call on Aug. 19 for a suicidal man who had told the 911 dispatcher that he had guns, knives, pepper spray and a Taser. When police confronted Rothstein, he said he would start shooting if he didn't get what he wanted by 3:30 a.m. At the designated time, Rothstein raised a gun and pointed it at the officers, who both fired. Rothstein's weapon turned out to be a BB gun.
According to the suit, Coleman said he heard Gaines offer to surrender shortly after her boyfriend, Kareem Courtney, and their young child left the apartment, and Courtney was arrested.
"Korryn Gaines said to the police, 'if you put your guns down and back up from my apartment, I will come out,'" the suit reads. "However, none of the police backed up from the apartment door." The suit also alleges that the police "did not fear Gaines as they had indulged her for several hours even up to the point where they alleged that she handled her weapon," the suit reads. "Police grew frustrated with Gaines because she would not submit to their authority."
Coleman told the attorneys that he heard a male police officer utter, "I'm sick of this s(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)" before multiple shots were fired.
Gordon, one of the attorneys representing Gaines' estate, said Tuesday at a news conference that Gaines was "assassinated."
"What we've discovered thus far is truly remarkable," he said. "This tragic death of Korryn Gaines certainly did not have to be."
This story has been clarified to reflect that the lawsuit was filed against the police officer and the county, not just the department.