The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has asked Baltimore County police for records related to the fatal shooting this month of Korryn Gaines, saying the agency has given inconsistent accounts of the incident.
Leaders of the civil rights law organization wrote Monday to Police Chief Jim Johnson, asking for body camera footage, policies on the execution of arrest warrants and a copy of the department's agreement with the county police union, among other information.
They also asked when Johnson would release the names of the officers involved in the Aug. 1 shooting in Randallstown, and urged him to regularly update the public about the department's review of the footage.
"We are seeking to better understand the policing practices in communities of color, and that information will help us to advance recommendations for changes in these communities," Monique Dixon, deputy director of policy, said in an interview. Dixon and Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the Legal Defense Fund, signed a letter to the department asking for the information.
"We are experiencing a crisis in the level of confidence that black and brown communities have in law enforcement," Dixon said.
The Legal Defense Fund frequently speaks out on policing issues and has raised questions in other high-profile police shootings, such as those in Ferguson, Mo., and North Charleston, S.C.
A tactical officer shot and killed 23-year-old Gaines inside her Randallstown apartment after an hours-long standoff. The officer also shot Gaines' 5-year-old son, Kodi, in the cheek while firing at Gaines. Police say Gaines had threatened to kill the officer and pointed her gun at him.
Officers initially went to the home to serve warrants on Gaines and her boyfriend, Kareem Kiean Courtney, 39.
Police have said there is no body camera footage from inside the apartment, but that some officers assigned to "support roles" outside were wearing cameras. The department has not released those recordings.
The letter points out that of six people fatally shot by county police since the beginning of last year, four were black, including Gaines.
A copy of the letter was sent to Vanita Gupta, who leads the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice. The department led the investigation into the Baltimore Police Department that was released last week.
Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the county Police Department, said the agency is working on a response to the defense fund's questions.
She said the department has tried to provide as much information as possible to the public, and that what the defense fund described as inconsistencies are "the result of updates and new information we have provided as the investigation progressed."
"All the facts of the case do not instantly appear hours after the incident," Armacost said in an email to The Baltimore Sun. "Sometimes information changes and evolves as interviews are conducted, statements are vetted and facts are gathered. Our commitment to transparency should be evident in the fact that we provide updates as they occur, based on the best and most recent information gathered during the course of the investigation."
At a protest Sunday as the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police conference opened in downtown Baltimore, demonstrators wore T-shirts reading "Justice 4 Korryn Gaines" and demanded that police release the name of the officer who shot her and her son.
Armacost said Monday the department is continuing to withhold the name for now because of threats against police. The department typically releases the last names of officers involved in shootings within about two days.
Under a new state law, police departments are required to file a report with the Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention about officer-involved deaths. The Sun obtained a copy of the county's report Monday under the Maryland Public Information Act. It states that the officer who shot Gaines is a 46-year-old white male, but does not identify him.
In the letter sent Monday, Ifill and Dixon said a previous phone conversation between them and Johnson "raised more questions than answers about how events unfolded that fateful day."
They questioned what led to an escalation the day police shot Gaines.
"Considering what BcoPD contends was Ms. Gaines' stance throughout the day (holding a shotgun on officers for hours), what about her words constituted an escalation that justified the officer's decision to open fire on Ms. Gaines after hours of negotiation?" the letter asks.
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The letter also pointed to "varying reports" on whether there are recordings of interactions between Gaines and police officers. Initially, Johnson said at a news conference that the department was "transcribing the tapes of the dialogue between the hostage negotiators and tactical personnel," according to the letter.
Later, the department said there were no audiotapes of the negotiations with Gaines.
Armacost said that as soon as Johnson learned there wasn't a recording of the negotiations, the department updated the public.
In addition, the defense fund letter asks for an update about when the department plans to release the names of all the officers who were at Gaines' apartment.
"Certainly, it is in the public's interest to know the identity of all officers who were at the scene during the incident involving Ms. Gaines, particularly those who are still on active duty," the letter states.