Rhanda Dormeus has spent five years fighting for what she calls justice for her daughter, Korryn Gaines, who was shot to death by Baltimore County police in 2016, and her grandson, who was struck by a ricocheting bullet but survived.
Dormeus and her family won a $38 million jury verdict that was subsequently taken away by a judge, but then found new hope when a state appeals court said the judge acted improperly.
Dormeus was back in court Wednesday, this time flanked by her attorneys and Rev. Al Sharpton, a national civil rights figure who has joined the cause. They are demanding, among other things, that Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Mickey Norman — a former state trooper — recuse himself, saying he is biased.
Norman threw out the verdict after finding that Baltimore County Cpl. Royce Ruby was entitled to qualified immunity, which shields law enforcement and government officials from civil liability when carrying out their duties. Ruby testified he fired through a wall, killing Gaines, 23, in her Randallstown home, and badly injuring her then 5-year-old son, Kodi.
Norman found that Ruby acted reasonably when he fired because Gaines, a Black woman, was armed with a shotgun while alongside Kodi, and refused commands to drop her weapon.
Her family’s lawyers said she had mental illness that caused her possibly to detach from reality, and that she was afraid of the police.
The case has dragged on for years and raised questions about racial and mental health issues.
After a brief procedural hearing Wednesday, the family’s attorneys, supporters and Sharpton walked outside the courtroom to nearby Patriot Plaza, repeatedly shouting “Justice for Korryn Gaines.”
Dormeus is demanding an end to the legal battle and accused the county of stalling to avoid paying their legal obligation.
“At the end of the day, my grandkids were left without a mother. She was snatched away from them. My grandbaby was actively nursing when my daughter was killed,” Dormeus said in an interview. “They need to be compensated in some type of way because they can’t have their mother, so what else can it be?
“They need to be able to live on and survive in this world. Baltimore County is on the hook for this settlement, but they are doing everything they can to avoid it.”
Attorneys J. Wyndal Gordon, who represents Gaines’ estate, and Kenneth Ravenell, representing Kodi Gaines, were adamant that Norman should recuse himself from the case, with Ravenell accusing the judge of “obvious bias.”
Sharpton said he’s there to help the family achieve what he called justice.
“I want to be real clear about the judge and those in this courthouse. I am here for this mother and this child. I am not here for politics and I am not here for gain,” Sharpton told a crowd of about 70 supporters. “It does not take five years to understand what you have done with this family. This family is hurting. You are sitting in the courtroom arguing about your schedule, when is justice on the schedule?”
Gordon was equally forceful, saying he believes pressure must be placed on the county and its leaders to end the fight.
“This is a civil rights case of our time. Towson, Maryland is ground zero police reform,” Gordon said. “What happened to Korryn Gaines was a homicide, plain and simple.”
County officials made an offer to settle the dispute, county spokesman Sean Naron said. He declined to disclose the amount of the offer.
“This administration inherited the case following the tragic death of Ms. Gaines, and our focus now is on doing right by the family of Ms. Gaines and, in particular, her children,” he wrote in an email. “After years in court, the County made a significant offer to resolve the matter, which reflects the highest amount we believe the court may award under the law.”
Gordon, who represents the estate and family, also declined to disclose the amount of money offered by the county but called it far to low to be credible.
“It was almost insulting,” he said. “When they produce a serious offer, we’re willing to negotiate.”
Ravenell, who represents Kodi, said the county made no offer to him.
Not much has happened in the case since last summer, when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued a 77-page opinion that found the judge was wrong to overturn the verdict. That opinion, however, has set off more litigation over whether the appeals court reinstated all or just some of the multi-million dollar verdict. That’s the issue being argued now.
Baltimore County attorneys want the verdict capped at $1.1 million to her estate and $400,000 to her son. Attorneys for Gaines’ family want the verdict paid in full. They held a procedural hearing Wednesday morning in Baltimore Circuit Court to hash out the way forward.