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Korryn Gaines case: Civil trial scheduled to begin in Baltimore County

Still from a cellphone video shows Korryn Gaines’ talking to police through the phone at around 1:41 p.m. during the standoff with police on August 1, 2016.
Still from a cellphone video shows Korryn Gaines’ talking to police through the phone at around 1:41 p.m. during the standoff with police on August 1, 2016. (Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office Photo)

A motions hearing is scheduled Friday in Baltimore County Circuit Court ahead of a civil trial in the case of Korryn Gaines, the Randallstown woman who was shot and killed by a county police officer during a 2016 standoff that she partially broadcast on Facebook.

A two-week trial is set to start next week in the wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Gaines’ family. At the hearing Friday, lawyers for the county will attempt to convince Judge Mickey Norman to dismiss the family’s claims.

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Gaines, 23, was shot and killed in August 2016 by tactical officer Royce Ruby Jr. during the hours-long standoff at her apartment. Ruby also twice hit her son, Kodi, who was then 5, when he fired at Gaines, according to the family’s complaint.

Gaines’ family is suing the county, Ruby and four other county police officers.

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J. Wyndal Gordon, attorney for the Gaines family, announces their plans to sue over the fatal shooting of Korryn Gaines on Aug. 1 by a police officer. (Alison Knezevich/Baltimore Sun video)

Police initially went to Gaines’ apartment that morning to serve warrants on her and her fiance.

The month after the shooting, county prosecutors ruled that it was legally justified and declined to bring criminal charges against the officers involved.

In court filings, lawyers for the county argue that Ruby, now a corporal in the police department, acted as a reasonable officer would. They say he saw Gaines raise her shotgun to the firing position, and that she didn’t lower it when a police negotiator asked her to. Ruby, who was outside the apartment, then fired at Gaines through the kitchen wall, “fearing that the police officers present could be killed or seriously injured,” the county lawyers wrote.

“The central point in this case is whether the actions of Corporal Ruby were objectively reasonable prior to and at the moment he fired his weapon,” the attorneys wrote. They contend that “a reasonable jury could not reach any other verdict than Corporal Ruby acted with objective reasonableness under the circumstances at that time.”

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Attorneys for Gaines’ family dispute key points in the police account of the shooting, saying she was not pointing her shotgun at police when Ruby fired his weapon.

Lawyers for Korryn Gaines' family on Monday notified Baltimore County officials of plans to sue over the 23-year-old's death last month.

They lay out a number of claims in their lawsuit, including allegations of excessive force and wrongful death. The family’s attorneys allege that when two officers initially arrived to serve warrants at Gaines’ apartment, they made illegal entry into her home.

County lawyers counter that another judge previously ruled the entry was legal — and that neither of those officers “had anything to do with the alleged wrongful death.”

Gaines’ family also alleges that her constitutional right to free speech was violated when police asked Facebook to deactivate her social media accounts during the standoff. She had been posting online that day about her interactions with police.

In court documents, attorneys for the Gaines family allude to disagreement among the police over whether shutting down the accounts was a good idea. They also say she was shot one minute after her social media accounts were deactivated.

“Gaines truly believed her life was in danger and she was afraid if she came out, she would be killed,” her family’s lawyers wrote. “Gaines was videotaping to preserve an independent record of what was taking place to show the world her [mal]treatment.”

Dozens of organizations wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday to ask him to explain why his company shut down Korryn Gaines' account at the request of police during a standoff between the Randallstown woman and Baltimore County officers.

The county’s lawyers say that even though county police requested the deactivation, it was Facebook — not the police — that made the decision to do so.

“The only entity with the authority to shut down a Facebook page is Facebook,” they wrote.

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