An attorney for the family of a Randallstown woman fatally shot by Baltimore County police in 2016 focused on her mental health as a civil trial opened Tuesday in her family’s lawsuit against the county and the officer who killed her.
County police “knew they were dealing with someone who had a mental illness” during the day-long standoff at the Carriage Hill apartment complex that ended in 23-year-old Korryn Gaines’ death, the attorney told a jury in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
“She was ill,” said the lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon. “That mental illness, it takes you away from reality.”
Gaines was armed with a shotgun when tactical officer Royce Ruby Jr. shot her with an assault rifle at her apartment. Ruby also wounded Gaines’ 5-year-old son, Kodi, in the face and elbow when he shot at Gaines.
Attorneys for the county say that Gaines — who was in her kitchen with Kodi when Ruby fired the first shot through the kitchen wall — lifted her shotgun into the firing position and refused to lower it before Ruby shot her.
“She risked her own life and the life of her son,” Watts said. “Miss Gaines’ behavior determined the outcome of this case.”
County prosecutors previously found Ruby’s shooting legally justified and did not file criminal charges in the case.
Police officers including Ruby were stationed outside Gaines’ apartment during the standoff. For much of the day, Gaines was in an area where officers could see her. Throughout the day, Gaines pointed her shotgun at the door but didn’t raise it to a firing position until she was in the kitchen, Watts said.
The dynamic changed when Gaines went to the kitchen, because she had moved “into a position of concealment” and Ruby believed police were in danger, Watts said.
Two police officers initially went to Gaines’ apartment that morning to serve warrants on her and her fiance. The warrant for Gaines was for her alleged failure to appear in court for a traffic violation, while the warrant for her fiance was related to an alleged domestic-violence incident.
Her fiance surrendered to police, but Gaines refused to come out, arming herself with the shotgun.
Gaines posted video on social media of her encounter with the police that day. Late in the afternoon, Facebook complied with a request from county police to suspend her social media accounts.
The case drew attention from activists around the country and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund questioned the way the police handled the situation.
Several lawyers are representing different members of Gaines’ family. Kenneth Ravenell, the attorney for Kodi and Kodi’s father, Corey Cunningham, told jurors that it was “unreasonable,” “reckless” and “irresponsible” of Ruby to shoot when he could not see where Kodi was located when he fired through the kitchen wall at Gaines.
Ravenell said officers had positioned themselves in the hallway in part because they believed the brick walls would protect them if Gaines fired her shotgun.
“The officers in that hallway were safe,” Ravenell said.
Gordon, meanwhile, told the jury that Gaines had been through a series of tragedies in her life, beginning with sexual abuse when she was between the ages of four and seven. She also suffered lead-paint poisoning. Her home had recently been burglarized, which is why she bought the shotgun, he said.
“There were multiple events that took place that made her who she was on Aug. 1, 2016,” Gordon said.
The panel hearing the case is made up of six jurors and three alternates. All are women. Four are black and five are white.
Her family’s lawsuit contains claims including wrongful death and excessive force. Other county officers were named previously as defendants in the lawsuit. But after rulings Monday by Judge Mickey J. Norman, who is presiding over the trial, Ruby and the county are the only remaining defendants.