A Baltimore County woman, 23, was fatally shot by Baltimore County Police and her 5-year-old child was wounded in the exchange of gunfire, when an effort to serve her with a warrant for failing to appear in court escalated on Monday into an hours-long standoff.
Police said that they originally came to Korryn Gaines' Randallstown apartment at 9:20 a.m. to pick her up on the warrant related to March traffic stop and to simultaneously pick up her boyfriend, 39-year-old Kareem Kiean Courtney, for a domestic violence incident a few weeks earlier.
Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said at a Tuesday press conference that Gaines met them at the door, holding a Mossberg shotgun. That gun, police said, was purchased last year.
Johnson said Gaines told officers, "If you don't leave, I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill you."
Gaines barricaded herself into the apartment with her child, while Courtney and a 1-year-old child left the building.
Complicating the situation, and fueling a firestorm of mistrust on social media about what actually took place, Baltimore County Police confirmed reports that they had indeed tampered with Gaines' Facebook and Twitter accounts during their standoff with her on Monday. Not only did this raise question about the violation of privacy, but it weakened another possible lifeline between citizens and the public during interactions with police.
By the time of the Tuesday press conference, a little after 1:30 p.m., reports were flying online that her social media accounts had mysteriously vanished—and Baltimore County Police were responsible.
After giving a rundown of the events that led up to Gaines death Monday afternoon, Johnson confirmed that officers had indeed contacted Facebook to remove her account—but only temporarily. They were able to remove some videos from her Instagram account, also through Facebook, since Facebook owns Instagram.
"We did, in fact, reach out to social media authorities to deactivate her account to take it offline, if you will," Johnson said. "Why? In order to preserve the integrity of the negotiation process with her and for the safety of our personnel. Gaines was posting video of the operation as it unfolded. Followers were encouraging her not to comply with negotiators' requests that she surrender peacefully. You can see the utility of taking that action."
"The content of Gaines' account has not been deleted, I want to stress that. Only deactivated," he said. "We filed requests through Facebook to preserve as evidence the account. We're in the process now of securing and satisfying the search warrant to obtain these records memorializing these documents. We do not have the ability or authority to deactivate social media accounts on our own. Facebook maintains a law enforcement portal through which requests for assistance can be made. Under these exigent circumstances, clearly as you can see this was an exigent circumstance where life and serious injury were in jeopardy."
But the ability to live-stream or even record encounters with police has consistently been the most powerful tool in the Black Lives Matter toolkit, producing immediate visuals of citizens' encounters with police—and showing a narrative that has often run counter to official police descriptions of events.
If it wasn't for Facebook Live, it's likely that America wouldn’t have even known the name or fate of Philando Castile in Minnesota, for example. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, went live shortly after police shot Castile last month. "I wanted everybody in the world to see what the police do and how they roll," Reynolds said during a press conference shortly after the incident.
Although, even in that case police held the upper hand. The Washington Post reported that police confiscated Reynolds' phone immediately after the incident, and her live feed went down briefly due to what Facebook officials called a "technical glitch."
Facebook has law enforcement guidelines posted on its site, but they are largely focused on how police can request information from the company about a specific individual. Facebook also says "we will take steps to preserve account records in connection with official criminal investigations for 90 days pending our receipt of formal legal process."
Asked about videos that had been deleted from Gaines' Instagram account, the police department's Director of Public Affairs, Elise Armacost, clarified. "Police do not have the ability or the authority to delete or deactivate social media accounts. We did not ask Facebook, which owns Instagram, to delete anything. We don't want to delete it because it's evidence. What we asked them to do during the barricade yesterday was to…take them off line so they were not visible in order to preserve the integrity of the negotiation."
Another invasive and possibly illegal tactic by police that is under scrutiny is their entry into Gaines' home, which they made because they were able to get a key from the landlord. "We're looking at the entry using the key at this time," Johnson said.
Police addressed reports from Gaines' family that they could have helped during the standoff by saying that family doesn't always make the situation better.
"We are following standard, trained procedures—these are time-tested," said Johnson. "We have trained personnel. They're using licensed individuals that specialize in this field that we also use for these negotiations."
They also said they'd be looking into how Gaines' son was wounded. He is recovering at Johns Hopkins Hospital after sustaining an injury in his arm.
"We are very focused on what round—her round? our round? a piece of shrapnel?—we don't know at this point in time," Johnson said. "I'm optimistic that some additional evidence will add clarity to this issue but we don't know."
He told reporters that officers arrived at Gaines' home wearing "warrant service gear." He said other officers were wearing the standard Baltimore County uniform. Officers were not wearing body cameras.
"We started our training program for body cameras on July the second. Approximately 40 officers in the agency have been trained. There were no officers wearing body cameras that were involved in the direct conflict at this incident site," Johnson said.
When asked if the department is doing anything to step up diversity training, Armacost said only that the department knows that they operate within a very diverse county, and look to make ties with the community.