Baltimore County, not police officer, would pay award in Korryn Gaines' shooting death

If the $37 million award in the civil lawsuit from the police shooting death of Korryn Gaines survives the expected appeals, Baltimore County would pay the entire amount on behalf of the government and the officer involved, County Attorney Michael E. Field said.

Cpl. Royce Ruby, the county police officer who shot Gaines in August 2016, will not be responsible for paying any amount in the judgment, Field said last week.

Police went to Gaines’ Randallstown apartment on Aug. 1, 2016, to serve a warrant for her alleged failure to appear in court. Gaines, 23, was armed with a shotgun. After a six-hour standoff, Ruby shot and killed Gaines and injured her then-5-year-old son.

Prosecutors concluded that the shooting was justified, but the Gaines family filed a civil lawsuit, naming both Ruby and the county as defendants. The family’s lawyers argued that Ruby violated the civil rights of both Gaines and her son, Kodi.

The jury found violations of both state and federal civil rights statutes. The award of more than $37 million this month is believed to be one of the largest of its kind in Maryland.

State law generally limits a local government’s payout in such lawsuits to $400,000 per plaintiff or $800,000 for all claims connected to a single incident. But there is no cap for damages under the federal civil rights statute.

Field declined to say whether the county had attempted to settle the case for a smaller amount before the lawsuit went to trial.

Once the judgment is officially entered, the county and Ruby will have 10 days to file motion seeking a new trial or a reduction of the award. Field has said the county is exploring all of its legal options.

Legal analysts say the case could be tied up in litigation for years.

But whenever the final judgment is entered, Field said, the county government will be responsible for paying it.

Baltimore officials said this month they wouldn’t automatically pay punitive damages in lawsuits against police officers. Their comments came after eight members of the city’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force were convicted of federal racketeering charges.

Prosecutors said the task force members robbed drug dealers and innocent civilians and conducted searches without warrants. Some of their alleged victims have filed civil lawsuits.

The Baltimore County case is different. The jury did not award punitive damages, which are intended to punish a defendant or deter others from taking similar actions. The $37 million awarded to Gaines’ relatives is in compensatory damages.

County law requires the government to defend an employee in a civil lawsuit if the employee was acting “in the scope of employment or the performance of duties as an employee.” Similarly, state law says a local government is responsible for paying a civil judgment against an employee if it resulted from actions “committed by the employee within the scope of employment.”

No one has argued that Ruby wasn’t acting in his official capacity as a police officer when he shot Gaines.

Ruby was not criminally charged in the shooting. The state’s attorney’s office deemed the shooting “justified,” and Ruby was later promoted from the rank of officer to corporal.

Ruby testified in the civil trial that he had no choice but to shoot at Gaines after he saw the barrel of her shotgun slowly rise to a firing position.

Two assistant county attorneys represented Ruby and the county government in the three-week civil trial. Ruby had the option to hire his own lawyer at his own expense, Field said, but decided to stay with the county’s attorneys.

The cost to the county to defend the case was $77,387.42, not counting the staff time for the employees who worked on the case. Most of that money went to defense expert Joe Key, who was paid $63,512.50.

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