Korryn Gaines was a pretty and petite young woman, at 23, with tiny hands and tiny feet. Her friends and family members say she was a voracious reader and they became accustomed to seeing her face immersed in a book, reading until late at night. On Aug. 1, 2016, she was in a stand-off with Baltimore County police who had come to her Randallstown apartment to serve her with a warrant for a traffic violation and her fiancé, Kareem Courtney, with a warrant related to an alleged assault. Fearful of police, she held a shotgun on her lap and reached out to family and friends on her cell phone and shared video of the incident on social media. Her 5-year-old son, Kodi, stayed near her.
The stand-off lasted for nearly six hours. A SWAT vehicle remained parked outside Gaines’ apartment vehicle. A tactical unit of police officers in full armor, guns at the ready, stood in her doorway and in the hallway, along with a hostage negotiation team.
Family members who came to convince her to come out were corralled into a nearby church and their phones were taken, so they had no communication with her.
Three minutes after Korryn’s Facebook account was shut down at the request of police, she was shot by Corporal Royce Ruby who said in a deposition that he feared for the life of his fellow officers when Gaines walked into the kitchen, where she would have had a more direct line of fire. During testimony in court he said she raised her gun at him at that moment and he fired at her. Her son Kodi was hit by gunfire in the face and in the arm, which shattered his elbow.
Lead attorneys for the Gaines’ family, J. Wyndal Gordon and Ken Ravenell, filed a lawsuit for a total of $42 million ($32 million for Kodi, $2.6 for the estate, $3.38 million for Gaines’ daughter Karsyn Courtney, $2.08 million for her mother Rhanda Dormeus, and $2.23 million for her father, Ryan Gaines Sr.) claiming excessive force was used by the Baltimore County Police Department and that Gaines and her son Kodi’s rights were violated.
During testimony in court Ruby said he feared for his life and the lives of his fellow officers, diverging from his deposition in which he said he feared only for the lives of his colleagues. The subject of mental illness came up as it related to Gaines, who had been prescribed medicine for mental illness, but had not been taking it for over a year. Gaines’ mother, Rhanda Dormeus, a retired psychiatric nurse, surmised that her daughter was having a psychotic break and had called her doctor during the stand-off to speak with police officers, but the officers Dormeus said, did not deem it necessary.
This afternoon, a jury of women declared Ruby’s shooting Gaines and her son “not objectively reasonable” and awarded Kodi Gaines $32 million, $300,00 each to Gaines’ father and mother, and $4.5 million to Gaines’ other child.
In an exclusive interview with Gaines’ mother, she talks about the day of her daughter’s death and the fallout.
Baltimore Beat: Tell me a little about Korryn as a child.
Rhanda Dormeus: Korryn was my third child. She was born a 9-pound, 12-ounce, blue-eyed baby girl [laughs]. She was precocious. She was a daddy’s girl. She was extremely outspoken. She was an extremely honest child. I told her to speak her mind, but be respectful. She was on the swim team. She was always a reader. She played in marching band, she played clarinet. She wanted her own clarinet, because she took it seriously, so I bought it for her; an electric blue clarinet. That was one of her favorite colors. I think she wanted it so I could be able to spot her.
With her not being with me since she passed, it makes me reflect so much on her and the way she lived her life and the things she did for herself and her children. It was almost like these were things she was trying to get out of the way. She was doing so much.
In her last year at City [College High School] she knew she wanted to focus on political science in college; she wanted to be a lawyer. She didn’t decide if she wanted the campus experience or stay home, so I told her she could have both at Morgan. If you want to stay on campus, you’re gonna stay on campus. Between her grandmother, her father’s mother, and myself, we made it happen. I borrowed against my 401K, my retirement, her grandmother helped me. We had a dorm warming party, it was a big thing, it was just a big thing. She started at Morgan in 2010, but she only stayed the one semester. Kodi came about, but let me tell you how hard I was fighting to keep her in school. I was fighting for her to finish school. I think it was Notre Dame that had a program where mothers and their children could come. They had on campus daycare. The cost was astronomical, but I was gonna try to figure it out, between her grandmother and I, we were gonna try to figure it out. I think from her perspective, she wasn’t as motivated, to move from this place, now to attend another school and being a mother. After she had Kodi she went to Fortis hair salon to do hair and she was working at a salon on Liberty Road, Salon L.
BB: How many children do you have?
RD: I have three of my own children and a 12-year-old I’ve been taking care of since birth. She has special needs, some mild cognitive deficits. She was born a preemie. Korryn’s godmother’s grandchild. Me being a nurse I took her in. In 2010 I got papers saying that she was placed in my care.
BB: Let’s talk about the case. According to your nephew’s testimony, Ruby told him after he shot her that, “I was hot. I was frustrated. I had been out there all day . . . ”
RD: That day, after they told me she’s gone, I dropped. I have to see the welfare of my grandson and what state he’s in. As I was doing that, my nephew came to help me up, that’s when the officer began to chastise him, and it was a row of them. I remember my nephew confronting him and having an exchange. He said, “this motherfucker is gonna tell me he was hot out there.” I remember my nephew having that outburst.
BB: At some point the police told you that Korryn had shot Kodi?
RD: They led me to believe that the bullet wound in his elbow came from her gun
BB: At this point you didn’t know she was gone.
RD: No. They shut her [Facebook] page down at maybe 3:30, 3:40—two minutes later, she was shot.
BB: Were you looking at her page as it was happening?
RD: They took my phone as soon as I got there. I told my best girlfriend, “I am on my way to Korryn’s. I think think they are gonna kill my baby.”
BB: Your nephew testified that the officer told him that he wasn’t going to sleep for weeks over this?
RD: Yup, that’s what he said. We won’t be right for the rest of our lives.
BB: How has Kodi been coping? He was shot in the arm and the face. What did the doctor in his testimony say about Kodi?
RD: He used a hierarchy scale—post-traumatic stress hierarchy scale. Based on his hierarchy it shows the highest level of trauma. He’s faced with a lifetime of therapy and all of these outcomes for this type of trauma, drug abuse, suicide, lack of being able to take care of himself from depression. He suffers from anxiety, night terrors, he’s become aggressive, which was never in his character. He’s physically abusive, he’s lying, something that was never tolerated. My oldest daughter told me he has turned dark. He’s not an average six-year-old like he should be. When you know a child pre-trauma and now have to deal with him post-trauma, it’s not just a shock to the child, it’s a shock to his caregivers. You’re faced with these new challenges for something that was out of his control.
BB: How have you as a mother been coping?
RD: I’m a mess. Sometimes it gets very dark. I can’t get out of bed. Kodi is experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. I have panic attacks. Not wanting to eat. I have to force myself to eat sometimes. The sporadic crying. I just start screaming and crying. There are not even words to explain the depth of hurt and pain. I’m not even angry with Rudy, there’s no space there, there’s too much pain. And that’s how I’m able to stay focused. There’s no room for anger and pain. I’m so profoundly hurt. Especially when I know all means weren’t exhausted. There was no urgency, it was six hours later. They can wait it out for days. I was a psych for nurse for years. There’s a group of mothers in court everyday to support me and they are my source of comfort and strength. They really do understand.
BB: There are mothers there that have lost children?
RD: Yes, one of the mothers her son was killed 19 years ago by a Prince George’s County police officer—Marion Gray-Hopkins. She lives in PG County and she drives up every day to come to court. Another mother, she lost three sons six weeks apart due to community violence, one was robbed and he had a heart attack, another one stabbed to death, gas was on in the house. I am a member of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers—their focus is on police violence. It’s so profound the connection the mothers have because we share a common pain that nobody unless they walk in their shoes will ever imagine. And I don’t want them to.
BB: The topic of Korryn’s mental illness has come up in court—she suffered from lead paint poisoning?
RD: One day she called me crying saying, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough to be Kodi’s mother.’ She was about to get the settlement for the lead case and she was like I want to make sure I do everything I’m supposed to do with the money to make sure we’re good. She was overwhelmed. She had gone into a depression. I told her you need to go in to talk to someone. She agreed and they admitted her. She was 21 so I wasn’t privy to everything that was said. She was released on an antidepressant to outpatient therapy. She told me about being sexually abused. They put her on Celexa. That was working. Then she got pregnant with Karyson (youngest daughter) and she wasn’t comfortable taking it anymore and she stopped taking it.
BB: You explained to the police her history of mental illness at the scene?
RD: Yes. When I got to the scene I explained that she had had a mental break and that she was under doctor’s care and I actually called the clinic. I spoke to I believe the charge nurse that morning. I told them what the situation was and that Korryn wasn’t coming out. She made Wanda Allen, the doctor, aware that I was on the phone. She then tried to get Dr. Allen on the phone. The officer told me straight up, ‘I’ll talk to her if I need to talk to her.’ She was 23 years old, she shared what she wanted to share with me. At the end of the day the doctor would be able to reveal more information than I could ever reveal. He never called.
BB: You said they didn’t exhaust all means.
RD: We begged all day to let one of us talk to her. I told them I would go in there. I said I would sign a disclaimer exonerating them from any collateral damage. They said it wasn’t protocol to let me talk to her. I said what about flash bang grenades and smoke bombs? They said that was out of protocol because there was an innocent child there. But they ended up shooting an innocent child.