Should Police Shooting Victim’s Family Get 37 Million Dollars

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It took less than three hours for the jury to side with the family of the woman who was shot and killed after a six-hour armed standoff with police in 2016.

Korryn Gaines was 23 at the time when she was shot and killed by a Baltimore county police officer who was responding to an unwell person who was holding a young child with her while threatening police with a shotgun. Her family lodged a civil lawsuit against the police alleging wrongful death, accusing the officers of shooting Gaines when they ran out of patience after the long standoff.

The Warrant

Korryn Gaines was stopped by police for a traffic violation relating to her license plate. Instead of an approved plate, her car had a piece of cardboard that read:

“Any government official who compromises this pursuit of happiness and right to travel will be held criminally responsible and fined, as this is a natural right and freedom.”

During the stop, the officer reportedly threatened Gaines with a Taser after she refused the request to exit the vehicle. Later, parts of the incident were uploaded to her social media. In one of these posts, Gaines alleged that the police had threatened to break her limbs and that she then was forced to spend two days in isolation. Final charges against Gaines were for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest as well as littering. After failing to appear to court to answer to these charges, Gaines earned a bench warrant that was to be served to her on August 1st.

Later, during the trial, Gaines’ attorney told the jury that the police knew that they were dealing with someone with a mental illness who has been taken “away from reality.” The lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon stated that Gaines was suffering from lead-paint poisoning and had been sexually abused as a child. Gaines had filed a lawsuit alleging lead paint poisoning in two of her previous residences and a report at the time from a pediatrician (Gaines was 18 or 19 at the time) stated that Gaines suffered from “signs of neurocognitive impairment” and had “lost significant IQ points as a result of that exposure.”

According to a report on lead exposure in children by the World Health Organization, unborn babies and children are the most likely to be susceptible to the negative effects of lead poisoning. At the time of the lawsuit, Gaines had recently given birth to her son Kodi.

August 1, 2016

According to the Baltimore County Police Department, two officers arrived on scene at Gaine’s apartment to serve warrants to Gaines and her fiance, who was charged in relation to an alleged domestic violence incident.

The fiance,¬†Kareem Kiean Courtney surrendered to the police and took with him Gaines’ one-year-old daughter, but Gaines refused to leave her home and armed herself with a shotgun. As the standoff went on, Gaines posted her experiences to social media. Within hours police had contacted Facebook in order to suspend her account.

When Gaines threatened police with a shotgun, Gaines was shot and killed by Corporal Royce Ruby. Police were not wearing bodycams.

 

Cpl. Royce Ruby

In 2007, Ruby was part of a two-man team of officers who had responded to a call that an armed, suicidal man would start shooting at 3:30am exactly if he didn’t get what he wanted. When 24-year-old Adam Benjamin Rothstein raised his gun to police at that time, he was shot and killed by the team of officers. Later the gun was found to have been a pellet gun.

During his testimony to the court, Ruby said:

“There was no choice. Officers were going to die if I didn’t take that shot.”

The bullet struck Gaines through a wall and then ricocheted off the refrigerator to also strike Kodi. Then, Ruby entered the apartment to shoot Gaines three more times.

When the verdict was handed down, Gordon called Ruby a “coward.”

The Jury’s Verdict

After hearing the evidence, and weighing the request from the Gaines family that they deserved $42 million from the county police for what they allege was a wrongful death, the six women returned to side with the family.

The family of Korryn Gaines would receive $32 million for Kodi, and $4.5 million for his younger sister Karsyn.

As well, the parents of Gaines would receive $300,000 and $307,00 respectively. The Gaines estate would receive a further $300,000.

The Lesson

Police officers are counted among my family and my friends. It will never be an easy job, or a job for just anyone. Knowing that it could as easily be someone I care about on the force facing the raised shotgun of a woman who believes her car to be above the law, who will have an extreme reaction to be asked to step out of a vehicle, who has used her poor mental state to seek winning lawsuits, I would not blame them for shooting back.

If a police officer tells you to do something, do it.

And now there’s a real fear that other families may be able to take advantage of situations like this. The children deserve support, and it is not their fault that their parent was in need of help, but a lawsuit that alleged willful victimization by police is not the way to get that help. Police will now have even more doubts about shooting at a dangerous person, and that instant is all it takes for the shotgun-wielding citizen to shoot first.

A government attorney summed it up:

“A mother died, a child was unintentionally injured, and police officers were placed in mortal danger. By any account, this was a tragic situation.”

But next time there’s a tragic situation, there’s now an opportunity for profit. If only Gaines’ family had put this much effort into their daughter while she was still alive and displaying signs of unwell and erratic behavior.

Sources: Baltimore Sun, Wikipedia, Vox, World Health Organization, The Independent

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