Au­thor­i­ties seek Gaines’ mes­sages on Face­book

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ali­son Kneze­vich

Po­lice and prose­cu­tors in Bal­ti­more County are seek­ing Kor­ryn Gaines’ pri­vate Face­book mes­sages and other ac­count in­for­ma­tion as part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her shoot­ing death by an of­fi­cer — a move an at­tor­ney for her fam­ily says is wrong.

Doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Bal­ti­more Sun show a county de­tec­tive ap­plied for a search-and-seizure war­rant seek­ing ac­cess to de­tails of Gaines’ Face­book ac­count. A judge signed the war­rant Aug. 22, but a lawyer for Gaines’ es­tate is chal­leng­ing the or­der.

Po­lice are seek­ing the con­tents of Gaines’ in­box and Face­book Mes­sen­ger chats, sta­tus up­date his­tory, wall post­ings, videos, a log of ac­count ac­cess and other in­for­ma­tion.

A county po­lice tac­ti­cal of­fi­cer shot and killed Gaines on Aug. 1 dur­ing a stand­off at her Ran­dall­stown apart­ment. The of­fi­cer, whom po­lice have iden­ti­fied only as

Of­fi­cer First Class Ruby, also shot and in­jured Gaines’ 5-year-old son, Kodi. (The depart­ment does not re­lease the first names of of­fi­cers in­volved in shoot­ings, ac­cord­ing to an agree­ment be­tween the county and po­lice union.)

In a mo­tion chal­leng­ing the war­rant, the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing Gaines’ es­tate ar­gues that is im­proper for po­lice to use a war­rant to seize her property af­ter her death when all charges against her have been dropped.

Judge Nancy M. Pur­pura, who signed the war­rant, de­nied the es­tate’s mo­tion with­out a hear­ing, ac­cord­ing to court records. At­tor­ney J. Wyn­dal Gor­don, who rep­re­sents Gaines’ es­tate, says he will ask the judge to re­con­sider.

“I just feel like [the search war­rant] is a scheme to get fur­ther in­for­ma­tion to be­smirch her name,” Gor­don said. “They are try­ing to make her kil­l­able so that it would jus­tify them ex­e­cut­ing her.”

Face­book did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Thurs­day.

The Po­lice Depart­ment is still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the shoot­ing. When it fin­ishes the probe, the find­ings will be for­warded to Bal­ti­more County State’s At­tor­ney Scott Shel­len­berger’s of­fice, which will de­ter­mine whether to file any charges against the of­fi­cer.

Shel­len­berger said in­ves­ti­ga­tors are seek­ing the Face­book in­for­ma­tion to help un­der­stand Gaines’ state of mind.

“We be­lieve there will likely be things on Face­book that will go to [Gaines’] state of mind,” Shel­len­berger said. “We al­ways try to get that in­for­ma­tion.”

The war­rant seeks Gaines’ Face­book in­for­ma­tion for three dates: March 10, July 19 and Aug. 1.

Shel­len­berger said po­lice had pre­vi­ously pre­pared an­other search war­rant, but Face­book told them it was too broad, so they nar­rowed their re­quest to those three dates.

Po­lice went to Gaines’ apart­ment Aug. 1 to serve her with a war­rant stem­ming from her fail­ure to ap­pear in court on charges from a traf­fic stop March 10. Gaines posted videos from both the traf­fic stop and the stand­off on­line.

Gor­don and Shel­len­berger said they did not know the sig­nif­i­cance of the July 19 date.

The search war­rant says the Face­book in­for­ma­tion is “ev­i­dence re­lat­ing to the com­mis­sion of a crime of 1st De­gree As­sault.”

Shel­len­berger said that de­scrip­tion was “in­ad­ver­tent” — and that the Face­book in­for­ma­tion is be­ing sought as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the po­lice shoot­ing.

Po­lice spokes­woman Elise Ar­ma­cost said in an email that a so­cial me­dia source “fun­da­men­tally is no dif­fer­ent from any other plat­form for pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion.”

“A di­ary kept in a note­book, videos stored on a phone and photos in an al­bum all are per­sonal property,” she said. “But if these be­come rel­e­vant to a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, law en­force­ment may ob­tain them with a war­rant.”

It is not the first time Face­book has been at the cen­ter of a le­gal dis­pute in the case.

Dur­ing the stand­off, county po­lice asked Face­book to tem­po­rar­ily de­ac­ti­vate Gaines’ ac­count, and Face­book did so. Po­lice have said they made the re­quest be­cause some of Gaines’ fol­low­ers were en­cour­ag­ing her not to co­op­er­ate with po­lice ne­go­tia­tors.

Last month, a coali­tion of civil rights and con­sumer groups sent a let­ter to Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg ask­ing him to clar­ify his com­pany’s poli­cies on work­ing with law en­force­ment.

Gaines’ mother, Rhanda Dormeus, said she feels it’s a vi­o­la­tion of her daugh­ter’s pri­vacy for po­lice to ob­tain her daugh­ter’s Face­book in­for­ma­tion.

“Now they are go­ing to have ac­cess to things she sent through Mes­sen­ger that she didn’t want pub­licly known,” she said.

Gor­don, the at­tor­ney, said it “doesn’t make any sense” to seek Gaines’ Face­book in­for­ma­tion af­ter her death.

“I don’t buy that ar­gu­ment that they were con­cerned about her men­tal state,” Gor­don said. “They should’ve been con­cerned about that be­fore they killed her. Af­ter the fact, it’s com­pletely and wholly ir­rel­e­vant.”

Af­ter Gaines al­legedly pointed a gun at an of­fi­cer who went to her apart­ment to serve the war­rant re­lated to the traf­fic stop, po­lice ob­tained an­other war­rant charg­ing her with first-de­gree as­sault and other counts.

Those charges were of­fi­cially dropped Aug. 19, court records show. The case re­lated to the March traf­fic stop was closed Aug. 29 be­cause of her death. Kor­ryn Gaines

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