Korryn Shandawn Gaines was a 23-year-old woman from Randallstown, Maryland, employed as a hairstylist. Her father, Ryan Gaines, had worked as a police dispatcher, according to depositions of Gaines' family in a 2012 civil suit. Her mother, Rhonda Dormeus, aged 49, is a registered nurse. She also has a 32-year-old sister and 26-year-old brother. Gaines was wanted on a bench warrant for failing to appear in court on charges related to previous cases of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest following a March 10 traffic stop and other traffic offences, according to Baltimore County Police. Gaines was pulled over by a police officer for driving without a license plate.
According to police reports, Gaines was stopped for a traffic violation for having a piece of cardboard with writing on it in place of a license plate. The cardboard plate 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 traffic stop, an officer reportedly threatened Gaines with a Taser. Later, Gaines reportedly posted videos to Instagram and described the incident and subsequent arrest, stating that the arresting officers threatened to break her limbs and that she spent two days in isolation. Gaines was released with charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and littering. Gaines' failure to appear in court over the traffic violation resulted in a bench warrant being served to her on the day of her death.
Reporting in The Washington Post suggested that lead poisoning may have contributed to Gaines' reported aggressive behavior surrounding her arrest in March. In 2012, Gaines filed a lawsuit in Baltimore alleging lead paint poisoning against the owners of two homes where she lived, which her attorneys said caused her to have elevated lead levels leading to "neurological impairments" and the loss of "significant IQ points." A pediatrician report included in the suit stated that Korryn had "a history of problems with anger and impulsive behavior" and had trouble concentrating. The report also stated that Gaines dropped out of Morgan State University when she became pregnant and was working as a hairdresser to support herself.
Baltimore County Police Department officers arrived at Gaines' apartment at Carriage Hill Apartments on Sulky Court to serve her a warrant. Gaines was in the apartment holding a Mossberg pistol grip shotgun and with her five-year-old son, who was used as a human shield; a standoff between Gaines and police ensued. Police say that after several hours of standoff, Gaines threatened officers with a shotgun. Gaines was subsequently shot and killed by police. Gaines' five-year-old son, Kodi, was shot by police, though it was not immediately clear who shot him. Kodi's arm was struck by bullets and suffered an elbow injury and bullet fragments in his face. Gaines' boyfriend, Kareem Kiean Courtney (age 39), who was living with Gaines, was able to leave the apartment with Gaines' 1-year-old daughter, upon which he was briefly detained by police before being released.
The shooting was not recorded as officers were not wearing police bodycams, initially police reported they were unsure if that was the case, as their bodycam program had recently begun. However, portions of the standoff were recorded by Gaines and posted to social media. Police later stated that while there is no police footage of inside the apartment, some officers assigned to support roles outside were wearing body cameras.
Filming and use of social media
According to news reports, during the standoff with police, Gaines posted videos on Facebook and Instagram during the incident. The videos appear to show Gaines talking with police in the doorway to her apartment and to her son. In one clip, she asks her son what the police are trying to do. He appears confused and stays silent. Gaines says "there is no wrong answer " and this time he responds "They trying to kill us," while smiling. She then asks "Do you want to go out there?" "No" the boy replies.
Police contacted Facebook via the company's “law enforcement portal” requesting the account to be taken offline. According to a police spokesperson, the account had been suspended but not deleted, adding that the video would be used as evidence. This was the first instance where Baltimore Police requested Facebook to deactivate an account in such a situation.
In a statement following the incident, Baltimore County police reported that they asked Facebook to suspend Gaines' Facebook and Instagram accounts during the standoff due to comments made by others to her video posts encouraging her to not comply with orders from officers. Facebook complied with the emergency request.
In early November, a new video was released from the incident showing Gaines talking into the camera, expressing her exhaustion but concurrent refusal to back down from arriving officers: "I'm at peace. I'm in my home. I ain't trying to hurt nobody. ... They been quiet a while so they plotting to come in here and disturb the peace. ... I am not a criminal."
The death of Gaines, who is of African-American descent, received international news coverage. Activists have called for protests under the "Say Her Name" banner, noting that black women who are killed by police receive less media attention than black males. Gaines was the ninth black female to be killed by police in 2016, and although in nearly every incident questions were raised as to whether or not the women attacked police, only Gaines' death received nationwide coverage.
Police allege that Gaines, though not actively affiliated with any specific anti-government group, identified and behaved as a ‘free person’ who does not recognize governmental authority. Police say there have been multiple threats to police following the incident, and have called for patience while the incident is being investigated. Due to the threats against officers, police have opted not to identify the officer who killed Gaines during the incident, though the department’s standard procedure is to release the names of officers involved in shootings about 48 hours after such an incident. In a county report, the officer is described as a 46-year-old white male.
Some outlets criticised the extensive coverage of the event, and the allegations of racial disparity as a contributing factor, stating that the police officers involved behaved rationally and did not provoke the shootout, and that Gaines unlawfully threatened police.
In the days following the shooting, local artists in Baltimore gathered to sell works to raise money for Gaines' family. A candlelit vigil was held at sunset at the entrance of Baltimore City College, the school where Gaines graduated from in 2010. In a number of cities across the United States, upon the urging of Black Feminist Future, a number of altars were laid to honor Gaines' and other black women killed by police. A number of the alters used the phrase "defend black womanhood" alongside other slogans.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund requested information and records from Baltimore police including body camera footage, policies on the execution of arrest warrants and a copy of the department's agreement with the county police union. Police stated there is no body camera footage from inside the apartment, but that some officers assigned to support roles outside were wearing cameras. Following the publicized NAACP request, Baltimore police published their response providing some of the requested details and documents but declined to release certain information, stating that the public would need to wait until after the investigation is complete.
According to some reports, Gaines' death was initially protested by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the days following the incident, a protest was held in New York City, approximately 100 people attended, with the involvement of Black Youth Project 100 and a local group named "NYC Shut It Down" as part of a reoccurring protest event titled "People’s Monday". The Phoenix chapter of the African National Women’s Organization held a protest for Gaines and two others recently killed by police.
On August 13, 2015, in Portland, Oregon, protesters associated with Black Lives Matter and "Don't Shoot Portland" conducted a sit-in demonstration near Pioneer Courthouse Square and disrupted train services.
On August 15, 2016, a protest was held outside of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) conference at the Hyatt-Regency hotel. The protest was organized by Baltimore Bloc and the Black Youth Project 100. Twelve protesters were arrested for trespassing on private property. A local police union official was suspended for describing the protesters as "thugs" in a department-wide email.
A small protest occurred on August 27, 2016, at McKeldin Square in the Inner Harbour area of Baltimore; the group was led by the People's Power Assembly. The protest marched from McKeldin Square to the Randallstown police station.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland condemned the shooting, releasing a statement criticizing police for their decision to use deadly force to execute a warrant, and for exposing themselves to a known risk of deadly force being used on them while aware that a five-year-old child might be in the line of fire. The National Organization for Women called for the United States Department of Justice to investigate Gaines' death, arguing that police were only at Gaines' home to serve warrants (not to arrest her) and were unable to deescalate the standoff. The National LGBTQ Task Force condemned the shooting, calling on state and federal authorities to investigate the incident.
Members of Gaines family have voiced skepticism of the police account of the shooting. Civil rights activists cautioned against the authenticity of police reports released following such events. Gaines' mother was reportedly at the scene before the fatal shooting, however, she stated she was not allowed to intervene in the standoff, though she had pleaded to negotiate to end the confrontation. Gaines' family members reported being prevented by police from seeing Gaines' son when the boy was in the hospital.
Some news outlets have called into question why the Baltimore County Crisis Intervention Team was not deployed. Police say trained negotiators were involved but could not respond as to why the unit was not dispatched. Others suggest there are deficiencies in the way law enforcement attempt to deescalate interactions in minority communities, suggesting that Gaines' interactions with police may have been shaped by attitudes and beliefs regarding police and the justice system in urban black communities. According to Vox Media reports, legally, the police officers only must reasonably believe that their lives were in immediate danger, but are not required to ascertain whether the shooting victim actually posed a threat, however, activists maintain the police should have sought other means of resolving the conflict. Others have called for the hiring of more female police officers, arguing that policewomen would be less likely to use lethal force to resolve conflicts.
The incident is noted as being further evidence of a trend of live-streaming confrontations between citizens (specifically, African Americans) and police in the United States. A senior ACLU attorney questioned the request by Baltimore County police to shut down Gaines' accounts, and Facebook's decision to comply, stating that Facebook must exercise caution when dealing with requests by police to censor content. Artist and journalist, Ferrari Sheppard also criticized Facebook's involvement in the incident on Twitter, saying "Facebook helped Baltimore police kill #KorrynGaines in the dark." The corporate watchdog group SumOfUs criticised Facebook for setting a precedent of censorship by orders of police, stating that the move is a threat to civil liberties, owing to the current use of shareable video on social media as an instrument in exposing police violence in the United States.
Activists maintain that cutting off an account or otherwise controlling social media access becomes a strike against those fighting police abuse. The police may then have an advantage in controlling the narrative of the incident.
On September 11, Gaines family lawyers filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging officers shot Gaines out of a loss of patience from the prolonged standoff. On September 21, Scott Shellenberger announced the officer who shot Gaines would not receive any charges. On October 11, Gaines family lawyers said they filed amended lawsuit, naming Officers John Dowell and Allen Griffin as defendants, the Gaines family alleging they entered the apartment illegally, though this had previously been dismissed by Shellenberger and police officials.