A Baltimore County, Md., jury on Friday awarded more than $38 million to the family of a woman who was fatally shot by the police in 2016 after a standoff that had been partly broadcast on Instagram.
The woman, Korryn Gaines, was shot several times by a Baltimore County police officer as her 5-year-old son lingered nearby, in the line of fire. During the standoff, the son, Kodi Gaines, was struck twice by the officer’s gunfire — once in the face and once in the elbow.
After an approximately three-week trial and less than three hours of deliberation, the all-female jury found that the first shot the officer had fired was not reasonable; they then doled out damages on the grounds that Baltimore County had violated the Gaineses’ civil rights and had committed battery on the mother and son.
The jury awarded Kodi Gaines, now 6, more than $32.8 million; Karsyn Courtney, Kodi’s younger sister, who was not in the apartment at the time of the shooting, was awarded more than $4.5 million; and Korryn’s mother and father were awarded $300,000 each, as was the estate of Korryn Gaines.
Kenneth Ravenell, a lawyer representing Kodi Gaines and his father, Corey Cunningham, called the verdict a “huge win” for his clients. While he acknowledged that the award was “significant,” he emphasized that he believed the payout was justified given that Kodi had been shot and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress.
“Everyone should consider whether, if it was their child, would this number be too high?” Mr. Ravenell said in a telephone interview on Friday.
“We are moved by the jury’s swift verdict in this case,” he continued. “We believe it sends a message not only to the police officer who shot my client and killed his mother in front of him, we hope it sends a message to police officers around the country that the citizens here, and the citizens all around the country, are tired of police abuses.”
In a statement, Mike Field, the Baltimore County attorney, said the county was “disappointed with the verdict and is reviewing all of its options, including an appeal.”
“A mother died, a child was unintentionally injured, and police officers were placed in mortal danger,” he said. “By any account, this was a tragic situation.”
The Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, the police union, did not respond to a phone message or return an email requesting comment.
As the case was unfolding, the police had said Ms. Gaines, 23, had a shotgun and had pointed it at an officer at least once during the confrontation.
In the fall of 2016, the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office announced that it had completed its review of the shooting and had determined that it had been justified, and that criminal charges were not warranted. The officer who fired the shots, Royce Ruby, was promoted to the rank of corporal while the matter was pending, Mr. Ravenell said.
The Baltimore Sun reported that lawyers for the family had sought more than $42 million in damages.
J. Wyndal Gordon, a lawyer for the estate as well as Karsyn Courtney and Korryn’s mother, Rhanda Dormeus, said he had sought more money for Ms. Dormeus, but had been awarded more money for Karsyn Courtney than he had asked for.
“We’re happy,” Mr. Gordon said in a telephone interview on Saturday night.
“A lot of this case was about men, men, men — men feeling safe, men having their body armor,” he added. “This victory is a healing balm for women and children — for all those who have been ignored and dismissed when they’ve made their allegations of police misconduct and abuse, this victory says, ‘Me too.’”
Defendants have a right to ask a judge to reduce the damages they must pay. But Mr. Ravenell said he did not believe the judge would make any changes.
The police standoff involving Ms. Gaines occurred in Randallstown on Aug. 1, 2016, and lasted several hours. That Monday morning, the police were trying to serve her with an arrest warrant after she failed to appear in court on charges related a traffic stop. The police were also serving an arrest warrant on her boyfriend, Kareem Courtney, 39, who the police said was wanted on an assault charge.
The first officer to enter the apartment testified that he saw Ms. Gaines holding a shotgun and that she had pointed it at him, according to The Sun. Officer Ruby also testified that he had observed Ms. Gaines seated in the hallway of her apartment, a shotgun on her lap and a cellphone to her ear, according to the newspaper.
Mr. Ravenell confirmed that Ms. Gaines had posted videos during the standoff, effectively live-streaming what was going on. Through Facebook — which owns Instagram — the police were able to essentially deactivate her account just a minute or two before the fatal shot was fired, Mr. Ravenell said.
Still, he said, Ms. Gaines’s “use of live streaming played no part in what occurred here.” He added that it was never alleged during the trial that her posts on social media “played any part in escalating the situation.” (Facebook did not immediately reply to a email seeking comment.)
Eventually, Mr. Ravenell said, Officer Ruby fired the first shot from outside the apartment — a vantage point from which the officer could not see Kodi Gaines, the 5-year-old child. Mr. Ravenell said the officer knew the child was in the kitchen and “allegedly could only see braids of Ms. Gaines’s hair and the barrel of a shotgun” when he “took a blind shot through the drywall.”
The shot struck Korryn Gaines in the back and also struck Kodi Gaines in the face, Mr. Ravenell said. The officer then went into the apartment and fired three more rounds, striking Ms. Gaines three more times and also striking Kodi Gaines a second time, Mr. Ravenell said.
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