Police and prosecutors in Baltimore County are seeking Korryn Gaines' private Facebook messages and other account information as part of an investigation into her shooting death by police – a move attorneys for her family say is wrong.
Police and prosecutors in Baltimore County are seeking Korryn Gaines' private Facebook messages and other account information as part of an investigation into her shooting death by an officer — a move an attorney for her family says is wrong.
Documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun show a county detective applied for a search-and-seizure warrant seeking access to details of Gaines' Facebook account. A judge signed the warrant Aug. 22, but a lawyer for Gaines' estate is challenging the order.
Police are seeking the contents of Gaines' inbox and Facebook Messenger chats, status update history, wall postings, videos, a log of account access and other information.
A county police tactical officer shot and killed Gaines on Aug.1 during a standoff at her Randallstown apartment. The officer, whom police have identified only as Officer First Class Ruby, also shot and injured Gaines' 5-year-old son, Kodi. (The department does not release the first names of officers involved in shootings, according to an agreement between the county and police union.)
In a motion challenging the warrant, the lawyer representing Gaines' estate argues that is improper for police to use a warrant to seize her property after her death when all charges against her have been dropped.
Judge Nancy M. Purpura, who signed the warrant, denied the estate's motion without a hearing, according to court records. Attorney J. Wyndal Gordon, who represents Gaines' estate, says he will ask the judge to reconsider.
"I just feel like [the search warrant] is a scheme to get further information to besmirch her name," Gordon said. "They are trying to make her killable so that it would justify them executing her."
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The Police Department is still investigating the shooting. When it finishes the probe, the findings will be forwarded to Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger's office, which will determine whether to file any charges against the officer.
Shellenberger said investigators are seeking the Facebook information to help understand Gaines' state of mind.
"We believe there will likely be things on Facebook that will go to [Gaines'] state of mind," Shellenberger said. "We always try to get that information."
The warrant seeks Gaines' Facebook information for three dates: March 10, July 19, and Aug. 1.
Shellenberger said police had previously prepared another search warrant, but Facebook told them it was too broad, so they narrowed their request to those three dates.
Police went to Gaines' apartment Aug. 1 to serve her with a warrant stemming from her failure to appear in court on charges from a traffic stop March 10. Gaines posted videos from both the traffic stop and the standoff online.
Gordon and Shellenberger said they did not know the significance of the July 19 date.
The search warrant says the Facebook information is "evidence relating to the commission of a crime of 1st Degree Assault."
Shellenberger said that description was "inadvertent" — and that the Facebook information is being sought as part of the investigation into the police shooting.
Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said in an email that a social media source "fundamentally is no different from any other platform for providing information."
"A diary kept in a notebook, videos stored on a phone and photos in an album all are personal property," she said. "But if these become relevant to a police investigation, law enforcement may obtain them with a warrant."
It is not the first time Facebook has been at the center of a legal dispute in the Gaines case.
During the standoff, county police asked Facebook to temporarily deactivate Gaines' account, and Facebook did so. Police have said they made the request because some of Gaines' followers were encouraging her not to cooperate with police negotiators.
Last month, a coalition of civil rights and consumer groups sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to clarify his company's policies on working with law enforcement.
Gaines' mother, Rhanda Dormeus, said she feels it's a violation of her daughter's privacy for police to obtain her daughter's Facebook information.
"Now they are going to have access to things she sent through Messenger that she didn't want publicly known," she said.
Gordon, the attorney, said it "doesn't make any sense" to seek Gaines' Facebook information after her death.
"I don't buy that argument that they were concerned about her mental state," Gordon said. "'They should've been concerned about that before they killed her. After the fact, it's completely and wholly irrelevant."
After Gaines allegedly pointed a gun at an officer who went to her apartment to serve the warrant related to the traffic stop, police obtained another warrant charging her with first-degree assault and other counts.
Those charges were officially dropped Aug. 19, court records show. The case related to the March traffic stop was closed Aug. 29 because of her death.