By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor
syoes@afro.com

On March 10, 2016, Korryn Shandawn Gaines, 23, was driving around Baltimore County with a cardboard license plate which allegedly 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.”

And sure enough, on that late winter day in March, Gaines was pulled over by Baltimore County Police. During some very tense moments, including law enforcement taking the keys from Gaines’ vehicle to prevent her from fleeing the scene she was eventually asked to get out of her car. According to the officer who detained her Gaines allegedly said, “You will have to kill me.”

Five months later she was dead.

Four years ago this week (Aug. 1) Korryn Gaines was gunned down by a member of the Baltimore County Police Department, while she held her son in her arms. Her son Kodi, who was 5 at the time was also shot, but survived.

Sean Yoes

Police were at her home to serve her a failure to appear warrant for the traffic citations in March 2016. During that fateful traffic stop, which ultimately led to her demise, Gaines alluded to her apparent adherence to the principles of the so-called “sovereign citizens.” A sovereign citizen may hold some dubious, or complex anti-government beliefs and do not adhere to such government enforced practices such as paying taxes or registering a vehicle, which Gaines was allegedly guilty of. Social media posts and videos seem to support news reports that Gaines was a sovereign citizen.

Law enforcement agencies argue the sovereign citizen movement poses a very real domestic terror threat in the United States.

I don’t think Korryn Gaines was a domestic terrorist. And you may disagree with her political views, or scoff at her judgement if you believe she imperiled her son the day she was killed.  But, what seems clear is Gaines, a young Black woman was not afforded the same “extreme patience,” in the words of Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson, by police as others have been. I wrote the following in this column in August 2016:

County police engaged in another infamous standoff in March of 2000, which lasted for days, not hours. After Joseph Palczynski engaged in a murderous shooting spree in the Baltimore suburbs, which left four people dead (including a pregnant mother of a two-year old boy) he took the family of his estranged girlfriend hostage in their Dundalk home. After a 97 hour (!) standoff with Baltimore County police (Palczynski actually shot at police on several occasions during the siege), two of the three hostages escaped after drugging the gunman and that’s when law enforcement finally entered the home while Palczynski slept and killed him.

Joseph Palczynski killed four people in a span of about 48 hours, held a family hostage while he shot at police, and law enforcement waited almost 100 hours before they finally entered the home where he was holed up as he slept and killed him. Yet, Korryn Gaines dies in less than six hours after police attempted to serve her a warrant for a traffic violation.

In the aftermath of her death, lawyers for the family of Korryn Gaines including star defense attorney J. Wyndal Gordon filed a wrongful death lawsuit on September 11, 2016, arguing police simply lost patience during a standoff that lasted a few hours. In February 2018, a jury awarded the Gaines family approximately $38 million in damages. The jury found the first shot fired by Baltimore County police officer Royce Ruby was not reasonable and violated Korryn Gaines’ civil rights. Subsequently, on February 14, 2019, Judge Mickey Norman dismissed the original complaint and award of $38 million. However, on July 1, a second jury reinstated the original $38 million verdict in favor of the family, $32 million which would go to her son. No officers were charged in Gaines’ death.

Ultimately, four years later the question remains why did there seem to be a rush to kill Korryn Gaines?

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor