Md. judge overturns $38M verdict in standoff lawsuit
The judge dismissed the family's claims against the county and the officer who fatally shot an armed woman in a six-hour standoff.
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — A Baltimore County judge has overturned the decision of a jury that awarded more than $38 million to the family of Korryn Gaines, the 23-year-old Randallstown woman who was shot and killed by county police in 2016.
Judge Mickey J. Norman dismissed the family’s claims against the county and the officer who fatally shot Gaines. The case drew attention from across the country, and the jury’s award was one of the largest ever against a Baltimore-area police force.
County officials declined to comment Friday. Norman’s decision came in response to post-trial motions filed by the county’s attorneys.
J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney for Gaines’ family, said they plan to appeal.
“It’s devastating to a certain extent, but they’re a very faithful family,” he said. “It’s not over.”
Norman presided over the civil trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court last year. His new decision comes almost a year after jurors found that the first shot fired by Cpl. Royce Ruby at Gaines — killing her and injuring her then-5-year-old son, Kodi — was not reasonable and therefore violated their civil rights under state and federal statutes.
In a nearly 80-page ruling, dated Thursday and obtained late Friday by The Sun, Norman found that Ruby was entitled to qualified immunity, which shields law enforcement and government officials from civil liability when carrying out their duties.
Norman, who is a former state trooper, wrote that Ruby’s actions were “objectively reasonable” and did not violate Gaines’ Fourth Amendment right against unlawful seizure, as her family had claimed.
Ruby shot Gaines following an hours-long standoff at her apartment, also hitting Kodi in the face. The judge wrote in his opinion that Gaines, who was armed with a shotgun, “abruptly moved from a place plainly visible in the living room to partial concealment behind a kitchen wall.
“The physical evidence is that she began to raise the shotgun, Corporal Ruby believed she was about to fire the shotgun,” which could have injured members of his team stationed in the hallway, Norman wrote. “Corporal Ruby was not required to be absolutely sure of the nature and extent of the threat Gaines posed.”
Police initially went to Gaines’ home to serve warrants on her and her fiance. Gaines’ warrant was for an alleged failure to appear in court for charges stemming from a traffic stop.
The month after the shooting, State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger ruled that it was legally justified, declining to bring criminal charges against the officers involved. Gaines’ family brought a civil lawsuit against the county and police officers. At trial, Gordon said police knew that Gaines suffered from mental illness.
After the trial, county attorneys argued in court filings that jurors based their decision more on “guesswork, speculation and sympathy” than on the evidence.
Jurors awarded more than $32 million to Kodi in damages, and $4.5 million to his sister, Karsyn. Gaines’ parents and her estate also were awarded smaller damages.
Norman vacated the jury’s finding that Ruby committed battery against Kodi.
“A partial bullet fragment from Corporal Ruby’s first shot, struck, but did not penetrate Kodi’s cheek,” he wrote. “That injury was unintentional and was the unforeseen consequences (sic) of Corporal Ruby’s lawful act.”
Kenneth Ravenell, who represents Kodi, called the judge’s decision “factually wrong and legally flawed in many respects.”
“Justice was not done today,” he said in a statement to The Sun. “We will appeal on behalf of young Kodi Gaines. We will have more to say in the near future.”
T.J. Smith, a spokesman for County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., said he had no comment on the case at this time. Police department officials also declined to comment. Ruby remains employed by the agency.
Gordon, the Gaines family attorney, said that in the appeal, he hopes to revive legal issues the jury did not get to consider because Norman dismissed them before trial.
“Were not happy about it, but the bottom line is we get a chance to have a full hearing before an appellate court,” he said.
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