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Md. Supreme Court rules officer entitled to qualified immunity in Kodi Gaines case

Posted: 6:42 PM, Jun 25, 2024
Updated: 2024-06-26 23:47:06-04
Md. Supreme Court Building

Eight years after a six-hour standoff that led to the death of a woman and injury to her son, the state's highest court ruled on the child's rights.

The Maryland State Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the law enforcement officer, Cpl. Royce Ruby, who shot and killed Korryn Gaines, ending the standoff, is entitled to qualified immunity.

"Qualified immunity has time and again been used to prevent people whose rights have been violated by the police, or other parts of the government, under the theory that the government and state actors are immune, so long as it wasn't absolutely clear that their actions were violating the Constitution," says University of Baltimore School of Law Professor David Jaros.

Jaros is also the faculty director for the Center for Criminal Justice Reform.

"What's also important to note," he says, "is that this is a decision that's actually about a very narrow piece of this larger case."

Korryn Gaines

Baltimore County Police attempted to arrest Korryn Gaines in August 2016.

She was armed with a shotgun, in her apartment with her son, Kodi, and police called for backup.

Ruby testified at trial that after six hours of the standoff, he saw Korryn Gaines in the kitchen, raising the shotgun into firing position, which is when he shot her.

Kodi's legal team disputed that Korryn Gaines was raising the gun to a firing position, and says that she'd gone to the kitchen to make her five-year-old a sandwich.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Family of Korryn Gaines settles with Baltimore County, 5 years after deadly police shooting

However, the legal question before the Maryland Supreme Court didn't concern whether Ruby's actions violated Korryn Gaines rights.

The case before the justices was surrounding whether he violated Kodi's Fourteenth Amendment right to Substantive Due Process.

Kodi was severely injured by the bullet that hit Korryn Gaines.

The state's highest court ruled in a 40+ page opinion that Ruby is entitled to qualified immunity in this area, protecting him from civil or criminal penalties for the injuries to Kodi.

Jaros says it's also important to note that even though the majority of justices ruled that the officer is entitled to qualified immunity, it doesn't mean they endorse the policing strategies used in the case.

"I think it's well accepted that what the police did here was horribly wrong, that this was not how they should have responded to a person in mental crisis, and that the use of force was deeply problematic," he says.

But he also says the majority opinion is somewhat "puzzling."

"If you follow the logic of the majority opinion, the result is that bystanders who are injured by the police have fewer protections than suspects who are apprehended by the police," says Jaros.

There are two additional opinions, one justice dissenting and one justice concurring in part and dissenting in part.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski's press secretary Erica Palisimo sent us the following statement following the ruling:

“This administration has remained committed doing right by the family of Korryn Gaines following this tragic incident. After many years in court, the County believes this case is now resolved. Moving forward, we remain committed to continuing to do all we can to provide closure to our communities.”