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)
A next-door neighbor who witnessed the standoff between Korryn Gaines and Baltimore County police last month says he heard the 23-year-old woman say she would surrender if police put their guns down.
"She said, 'Put your guns down and I'll put mine down and come out,'" the neighbor, Ramone Coleman, said Monday. "They said no. And they said they were not leaving."
His account of that day is detailed in a letter that lawyers for Gaines' family sent Monday to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, notifying him of plans to sue over the fatal shooting of Gaines on Aug. 1 by a police officer. Such notice is required by law when someone sues a government agency.
In the letter, lawyer Jimmy A. Bell said family members intend to file a lawsuit alleging excessive force, suppression of speech, negligence and other claims.
"It was obvious her life did not matter to [police]," Bell said in an interview.
The six-page letter offers a new account of what happened the day Gaines was killed. It says Coleman's Randallstown apartment "was involuntarily commandeered by the Baltimore County Police SWAT Unit and used as a command post."
County police and a spokeswoman for Kamenetz declined to comment on claims made in the letter. Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said an internal investigation of the shooting is continuing.
The department has identified the officer who shot Gaines only as Officer First Class Ruby. A previous agreement between the county and the police union allows only the last name to be released of any officer involved in shootings.
According to police, Ruby fired at Gaines after she threatened to kill him and pointed her gun at him. They say Gaines shot back and that Ruby fired again. Ruby also hit Gaines' 5-year-old son, Kodi, in the cheek when he shot at Gaines.
Officers initially went to the apartment to serve warrants on Gaines stemming from a traffic stop and on her boyfriend in connection with an alleged assault on Gaines.
According to the letter sent to Kamenetz, police drilled holes in Coleman's living room, bedroom and bathroom walls to monitor Gaines' movements with surveillance equipment that was connected to TV-like monitors in his apartment "so they could watch what was going on in her apartment from different angles." The officers, dressed in dark green uniforms, were carrying rifles, according to the letter.
Coleman, a 38-year-old barber, told The Baltimore Sun he was home with his 1-year-old daughter the morning of the standoff when police came to his apartment.
Throughout the day, up to eight officers at a time were in his home, he said. The police would not let him and his daughter leave, but at one point brought in food for his daughter, he said.
Dozens of officers surrounded the apartment complex, he said.
"They were at every single window," he said. "Every exit, every window."
He said that before he heard gunshots that day, he heard an officer say, "I'm sick of this s--t. Put the gun down."
Coleman said he gave a written statement about what he witnessed to detectives.
He said his family moved to another unit in the same complex a few days after the shooting because his wife was too upset to stay there.
"I don't think she deserved to die like that," Coleman said of Gaines. "Hopefully, we can stop the killing, whether it be from cops or non-cops."
Gaines had been posting online video of the standoff to social media. County police asked Facebook to temporarily deactivate Gaines' account, and the company did. Police say they made the request because some of Gaines' followers were encouraging her not to cooperate with negotiators.
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But lawyers for Gaines' family say it was a violation of her rights.
"By blocking her live streaming, the Baltimore County Police Department not only suppressed [her] speech under the Maryland Constitution but also stopped the only independent visual video record of what was taking place before Officer Ruby killed her," Bell wrote in the letter.
The lawsuit will name the county and Ruby as defendants, according to the notice of intent to sue.
In it, Bell says Gaines was "illegally and unconstitutionally killed." The letter says police turned away family members who wanted to help. It also says the county's mobile crisis team, which pairs police officers with mental health professionals, did not come to the scene.