In 2016, Korryn Gaines was fatally shot by Baltimore police after they attempted to enter her home. Her family sued, and after two years in court, a jury eventually rewarded them over $37 million in damages. A judge overturned that verdict last year, arguing that the officer was protected under “qualified immunity.”
Now, the Baltimore Sun reports that an appeals court has found that the lower court acted wrongfully when it overturned that verdict. However, there is no consensus between the attorneys about whether this new ruling reinstates the full amount of the award to the family. Ken Ravenell, one of the attorneys for the Gaines family, believes that this new ruling reinstates the full amount for the moment.
“This is obviously huge for Kodi and the rest of the Gaines family. The court found that the trial judge violated the law in taking that verdict away. They can now expect that they can collect a significant award in the near future.” Ravenell said. He did acknowledge that the new ruling has left open the possibility that a lower court can alter the amount. Attorneys for Baltimore County believe this new ruling significantly reduces the amount awarded to the family. “The County is continuing a comprehensive evaluation of the opinion and considering further action. We cannot comment further.” Sean Naron, a county spokesman, wrote in an email to the Sun.
In August 2016, police arrived at Gaines’ apartment to serve her warrant for a missed court date regarding a traffic violation. When no one opened the door, the police tried opening it with a key from the complex before kicking it down to break the chain locking it. They found Gaines in the apartment with her son, Kodi. Gaines was holding a shotgun when they entered and the cops initially retreated back into the hallway. Lawyers for the family say Gaines had an innate distrust of police and potentially suffered from a mental illness that made her detach from reality.
From the Sun:
Cpl. Royce Ruby was stationed for five hours just outside the door, which was cracked open a few inches. Ruby testified that Gaines sat in the hallway of her apartment, a shotgun on her lap and a cellphone to her ear.
She broadcast some of the standoff on Facebook until police succeeded in having her accounts shut down. She used her phone to videotape officers, and sometimes gave the phone to 5-year-old Kodi so he could film, too.
Eventually, Kodi went into the kitchen and Gaines followed. The boy would tell a therapist later that his mother was shot when she went to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, according to testimony at trial.
Ruby testified that Gaines suddenly went into the kitchen and raised the shotgun in a firing position pointed toward officers. He testified that he could see only the barrel of the shotgun and long braids of her hair.
“Fearing for officer safety, he fired ‘a head shot,’ aiming high to avoid hitting Kodi, who he knew was in the kitchen, although he did not know exactly where,” the appeals judges noted in their opinion.
The first bullet the officer fired ricocheted off the refrigerator and struck Kodi in the cheek. No officers were charged in the case but a jury did find that the first shot that struck Kodi violated the civil rights of both Korryn and Kodi. This resulted in the over $37 million awarded to the family.
The family hopes this ruling will allow them the financial support to get Kodi the help he needs. Kodi’s father, Corey Cunningham, says that his son has been a “shell of himself” since the incident occurred. He’s had trouble behaving in school, suffers from anxiety and has had to see a counselor. Kodi told his counselor that his mom was making herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she was killed. “This gives them the hope that in the very near future a young Kodi will get the psychological care that he needs so desperately,” Ravenell said.