Cpl. Royce Ruby Jr. testified Monday that on that August 2016 day outside the apartment of Korryn Gaines, he spent five hours in the line of gunfire.
All around him were brick walls, he said, which if hit by stray bullets would expose him and fellow Baltimore County police officers to the equivalent of a “deadly pinball machine.”
During emotional testimony in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Ruby said he kept his eyes on Gaines, the 23-year-old Randallstown woman he ultimately shot and killed during the standoff in her apartment building. He said that in the hours before her death, Gaines was seated in the hallway of her apartment, a shotgun on her lap and a cellphone to her ear.
Ruby is at the center of the Gaines family’s civil lawsuit against him and the county alleging police used excessive force and violated the rights of Gaines and her young son, Kodi, who was in the apartment with his mother and was injured by gunfire.
Ruby said he acted in a way necessary to protect himself and the other officers at the Carriage Hill apartment complex. He was not criminally charged after prosecutors deemed the shooting legally justified.
“There was no choice,” he told the all-female jury. “Officers were going to die if I didn’t take that shot.”
Attorneys representing Gaines’ family said police were positioned behind cover around the building in a manner that didn’t put them in imminent danger. They said Ruby did not cite a fear of ricocheting bullets in statements prior to Monday’s testimony.
“Ruby should have never taken that shot,” said J. Wyndal Gordon, who represents Gaines’ estate. “Everyone was safe and no one was in danger, by their own experiences.”
Police went to Gaines’ apartment Aug. 1, 2016, to serve warrants on Gaines and her fiancé, Kareem Courtney. Gaines’ warrant was for failing to appear in court on traffic charges; Courtney’s was related to an alleged assault.
Courtney left with the couple’s infant child when police arrived and surrendered to officers, but Gaines remained. Another officer previously testified that when he walked into the apartment, Gaines was pointing a shotgun at him.
Ruby, who had been on the tactical team more than a decade, was called to the scene.
During the six-hour standoff Gaines moved to the kitchen, and Ruby fired at her from outside the apartment. He then entered the apartment and shot her three more times. One of the bullets passed through Gaines and wounded her son, Kodi.
Kodi, now 6, is “a shell of himself,” his father testified earlier in the trial. The boy was once “full of life, full of personality,” said Corey Cunningham, but has become skittish and has trouble sleeping and behaving in school.
Ruby testified through tears that he tried to do everything in his power to keep the boy safe. He said at one point, he gave Kodi a smile and motioned for him to come through the door.
“I needed him to take two or three more steps and I could have grabbed him,” he said. “All I needed were those two or three more steps and all at once, I hear her yell, ‘Get back here now.’”
Ruby said he tried to talk to Gaines once during the standoff. He told her no officers were in the apartment and that he, too, was a parent.
Gordon asked Ruby why he didn’t also tell her to put her gun down or warn her that he was about to shoot.
Ruby said that after Gaines went to the kitchen, she moved out of his sight — except for her long braids and the barrel of her shotgun, which he said slowly rose to a firing position. That’s when he fired his weapon, striking her through the kitchen drywall. He entered the apartment and fired three more times, concerned that her finger was still on the trigger after he heard it discharge.
Gaines had broadcast part of the standoff on social media before authorities successfully had them taken down. The shooting garnered national attention, and some activists pointed to it as an example of police brutality against people of color.
Rhanda Dormeus, Gaines’ mother, listened as Ruby described the final moments of her daughter’s life in Judge Mickey J. Norman’s courtroom. Dormeus said her daughter is constantly in her “mind and heart.”
“Our whole family is rocked. This was an unnecessary death. He did not have to shoot her,” she said.
More witness testimony is scheduled for Tuesday, with closing arguments expected to begin Wednesday.