(Photo: Rhanda Dormeus, Korryn Gaines' mother. AP photo credit: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades.)
“This has to stop,” pleaded three federal appellate judges in overturning a grant of “qualified immunity” that had excused police for their brutal killing of Wayne Jones, a Black man experiencing homelessness in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Mr. Jones was killed in 2013 by five officers as he lay motionless on the ground between a stone wall and the wall of officers who teased, punched, kicked and choked him, before killing him in a barrage of 22 gunshots.
In its powerful 2020 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit pushed back against the increasingly intolerable consequences of qualified immunity, a court-invented doctrine used as both shield and sword to block accountability for police violence and strip victims of their rights to redress. “Although we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make split-second decisions,” the Jones Court ruled, “we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of Black lives.”
On Dec. 4, the Maryland Supreme Court will have an opportunity to address this crisis of impunity when it hears a case in which lower courts radically expanded the reach of qualified immunity to excuse the horrific police shooting of a 5-year-old child trapped amid police gunfire that killed his mother.
After Korryn Gaines — a young Black woman experiencing mental health challenges — missed a court date for minor traffic tickets, heavily armed Baltimore County police kicked in the door of her home and found her with a gun, leading to a prolonged standoff. As Ms. Gaines huddled in her apartment with her 5-year-old son Kodi, more than 30 officers, police snipers and armor-clad SWAT units swarmed the apartment complex, with at least four armed officers stationed just outside Ms. Gaines’ door.