Police asked Facebook to suspend Korryn Gaines’ account during fatal standoff

© Korryn Gaines
During a five-hour standoff that ended in the death of a Maryland mother, police asked Facebook to suspend her social media accounts. Korryn Gaines had been streaming the confrontation and previously posted recorded encounters on Instagram.

Gaines, 23, was killed and her five-year-old son wounded, when police opened fire around 3:00pm on Monday. They arrived at her apartment in Randallstown, northwest of Baltimore, that morning, attempting to arrest Gaines for not appearing in court over a traffic stop in March.

The police request, which may be without precedent, is particularly interesting in light of the fact that Gaines had been a prolific Instagram and Facebook user, posting many videos of her encounters with the law on social media.

“We did in fact reach out to social media authorities to deactivate her account,” Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson told reporters Tuesday. “Why? In order to preserve the integrity of the negotiation process with her and for the safety of our personnel [and] her child. Ms. Gaines was posting video of the operation as it unfolded. Followers were encouraging her not to comply with negotiators’ request that she surrender peacefully.”

Police approached Facebook with the request to suspend Gaines’ accounts through what Johnson described as a “law enforcement portal” on the social network’s site.

It took more than an hour from the request to suspend the accounts, Johnson said. They were not deleted, however – Gaines’ Instagram account was back up on Tuesday. Police said they were working on a warrant to use the videos as evidence in the case, because none of the officers involved wore body cameras.

The measure was seen as controversial by some African-American activists, who say that filming encounters with police gave them a voice they lacked previously.

“They control the narrative, but in controlling the narrative they have to control social media, because it’s our narrative,” Baltimore activist Duane ‘Shorty’ Davis told the Guardian. “To keep our message from getting out, they’re going to take [social media] out.”

The Randallstown mother, who did not have a criminal record, fell afoul of the law in March when Baltimore County police stopped her in nearby Catonsville after noticing her car had a handmade license plate that said “Free Traveler.”

“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,” the cardboard plate said, according to court documents.

Gaines recorded the incident and posted the videos on Instagram.

In another social media post, Gaines said she suffered a miscarriage as a result of her arrest that day, adding that she was “a hostage and being denied my basic constitutional rights.”

Gaines was charged with several traffic violations, as well as resisting arrest, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and littering. On July 13, after she did not appear in court to answer the charges, a warrant was issued for her arrest. Police also had a warrant for her boyfriend, 39-year-old Kareem Kiean Courtney, due to a domestic violence complaint Gaines had filed. While Courtney left the apartment, Gaines refused.

After discovering that Gaines was armed with a shotgun, the police sent a tactical team to the apartment.

Two weeks prior, Gaines had posted a video on Instagram, referring to the shotgun she bought last September as “Big Girl,” and noting it was “Legit w/papers.”

“Hope they sending in clones,” she added.

About five hours into the stand-off, after her social media access had been cut off, Gaines brought up the shotgun and told the officers, “If you don’t leave, I’m going to kill you,” Chief Johnson told reporters.

“Our personnel returned three rounds of fire, striking her and killing her,” Johnson said.

“They could clearly see a female that they believed to be Ms. Gaines seated on the floor, a child nearby, who immediately began to wield a shotgun around, bringing it up to ready position, pointing it directly at the officers there to serve the arrest warrant,” he added.

Gaines’ five-year-old son was wounded in the arm but was recovering in hospital, police said.