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During Fatal Standoff, Police Asked Facebook To Deactivate Woman's Account

Baltimore County police shot and killed Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old black woman, after an hours-long standoff on Monday — during which Facebook and Instagram, at police request, temporarily shut down Gaines' accounts.

Gaines, who police say was armed with a shotgun, is the ninth black woman shot and killed by police so far this year, The Washington Post reports. Her 5-year-old son was wounded in the exchange of gunfire. The case has attracted a significant amount of attention on social media.

Police Chief Jim Johnson says Gaines was posting video of the standoff to social media as it was unfolding, which prompted police to request the deactivation of her accounts.

Gaines' Facebook page is now reactivated; it does not have any videos visible to the public. On Instagram, one video apparently recorded during the standoff remains.

It appears to show Gaines' 5-year-old son responding to her questions.

"What's happening right now? Who's outside?"

"The police."

"And what are they trying to do? ... What are they trying to do?"

"They're trying to kill us."

A second video, now deleted, showed a police officer with a gun drawn at Gaines' door.

Facebook and Instagram have not responded to NPR's requests for comment.

The Associated Press reports on how the situation unfolded:

"The standoff Monday began after three officers went to Gaines' apartment to serve arrest warrants on her and her boyfriend, Kareem K. Courtney, 39, according to police. He left the apartment with a 1-year-old boy before the standoff and was arrested.

"Gaines' mother, Rhonda Dormeus, told The Baltimore Sun her daughter ignored Courtney's pleas to surrender. During a Facebook call Monday, Dormeus said she heard him tell Gaines 'it wasn't worth it, to just come on out,' and then the 'phone went dead.' Dormeus went to the scene but wasn't allowed to speak to her daughter, something she said might have helped calm her daughter and end the situation peacefully.

" 'I do feel like they didn't want to hurt her,' Dormeus said. 'But I don't feel like they exhausted all the means of negotiation.' "

"Gaines' bench warrant stemmed from charges during a March 10 stop, including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Authorities said she was armed with a 12-gauge pistol grip shotgun that was legally purchased last year and toward the end of the negotiations pointed it directly at an officer and said, 'If you don't leave, I'm going to kill you.'

"An officer shot at her and Gaines fired two shots, but missed the officers, who returned fire and killed her, police said."

Gaines' son was struck in the exchange and is hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Police say it's not clear which gun was responsible for his injuries.

On her Instagram account, Gaines had posted a series of videos of the traffic stop that eventually led to her arrest warrant.

Police say she was pulled over because, in place of a license plate, she had a cardboard sign reading "Free Traveler," the Baltimore Sun reports. Another sign in her car reportedly read, "Any Government official who compromises this pursuit to happiness and right to travel will be held criminally responsible and fined, as this is a natural right or freedom."

In the videos, Gaines is seen repeatedly telling an officer he doesn't have the authority to demand her driver's license. "I do not participate in any of you guys' side laws ... I do not participate in that," she said.

After that police stop, and subsequent charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, Gaines failed to appear in court, police say. That's what brought the officers to her door with an arrest warrant, prompting the standoff.

A police spokeswoman says hostage negotiators were present during the barricade.

Johnson says that as negotiations were happening, police asked social media sites to deactivate Gaines' accounts to "preserve the integrity of the negotiation process" as well as the safety of officers and Gaines' child.

"Gaines was posting video of the operation as it unfolded. Followers were encouraging her not to comply with negotiators' requests that she surrender peacefully," he said. "Clearly, you can see this was an exigent circumstance where life and serious injury were in jeopardy."

After a short period of time, Facebook (which owns Instagram) complied and deactivated the accounts. No data was deleted, Johnson said.

Police do not have the authority to directly deactivate a social media account, Johnson and the spokeswoman both said. Facebook decides whether to comply with such requests.

Facebook regularly cooperates with police and has a portal to facilitate requests from law enforcement officers. But most of the company's statements on this topic focus on providing data to officials, and don't address deactivating accounts.

Last year, the company says, it received nearly 1,500 emergency requests from government agencies — that is, requests in which authorities identify an immediate risk and do not have a court order or subpoena. The company released some data in about 73 percent of those requests.

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Corrected: August 3, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this post said Gaines was shot by Baltimore police; they were actually Baltimore County police.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.