Ma'Khia Bryant was fatally shot by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer on Tuesday

By Jeff Truesdell
April 23, 2021 03:37 PM
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Ma'Khia Bryant
Ma'Khia Bryant
| Credit: Paula Bryant

Authorities continue to investigate the killing of Ma'Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl who was fatally shot by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio, while she appeared to be lunging at another female with a knife.

Graphic officer-worn body camera video released by Columbus police showed the altercation that preceded Ma'Khia's fatal shooting, which allegedly erupted between three young women in the midst of an argument over housekeeping chores at the foster home they shared.

In the video, Ma'Khia is seen holding a knife and shoving a female who falls backward on the ground toward the officer. Ma'Khia then appears to threaten the female on the ground with the knife.

As she does so, the officer produces and points a gun, as Ma'Khia appears to turn toward a second female she has pinned against a car, lunging again with the knife at the second female and prompting the officer to pull the trigger. Ma'Khia was shot four times.

Ma'Khia Bryant protests
Protesters took to the streets of Columbus after the police shooting of Ma'Khia Bryant
| Credit: Stephen Zenner/Getty

Officer Nick Reardon, who allegedly fired the shots, can be overheard on the video saying: "She had a knife. She just went at her."

"At a news conference, Columbus interim Chief of Police Michael Woods said: "What the video shows is the female with a knife attempting to stab the first female that lands on the ground."

A Columbus police officer since December 2019, Reardon has been placed on paid leave while the shooting is investigated.

"We don't yet have all of the facts but we do know that a 16-year-old girl, a child of this community, tragically died last night," Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in comments to the media on Wednesday.

"Bottom line: Did Ma'Khia Bryant need to die yesterday?" he said. "How did we get here? This is a failure on the part of our community. Some are guilty but all of us are responsible."

Ma'Khia Bryant protests
Credit: Stephen Zenner/Getty

Ma'Khia's family is speaking out about the case, arguing that the police officer's decision to shoot her constituted a "disproportionate and unjustified use of force."

"She was just a teenage girl, and this was an unnecessary loss of life," said Don Bryant, a cousin of Ma'Khia's mother Paula Bryant, reports NBC's Today. "It's a tragedy."

Paula Bryant and her daughter, who was in the foster care system at the time of her death Tuesday, "loved each other, and Paula was working very hard to get her daughter back," said Bryant.

"Ma'Khia was a good student, a good person, and did not deserve what happened to her," the family said in a statement. "We are deeply disturbed by the disproportionate and unjustified use of force in this situation. And while we remain encouraged by public support and all of the prayers shared with us; at the end of the day, we know nothing will bring back our beloved Ma'Khia. We respectfully request justice for Ma'Khia Bryant."

The killing — on the same day as a verdict in Minneapolis declared white former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, in a widely watched trial — kept a spotlight focused on criticism of police use of force, especially as it concerns Black people.

In Columbus alone, 26 people have been shot to death by law enforcement since 2016, according to the Mapping Police Violence database, reports The New York Times. Four of those shootings happened in the past four months.

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Among the victims, according to the Times: Miles Jackson, a Black man with a weapon who was shot during a struggle as police attempted his arrest at a Columbus hospital; Andre Hill, an unarmed Black man, shot outside his garage as he walked toward officers who were called to the scene of a reported suspicious vehicle; and Casey Goodson Jr., a Black man with a concealed weapon license who was shot in the back outside his home after officers said he waved a gun at them from his car and then failed to respond to their verbal commands at his front door.

"People across the country think Columbus is a great place to live, but if you go to these other neighborhoods, they'll tell you that they're suffering, that they're being terrorized," attorney Sean Walton, who's worked with families of those killed by police officers in Ohio's capital city, told the Times. "There are these two tiers, and one is thriving while the other is suffering in ways that are a matter of life and death."

In the case of Ma'Khia's death, "My first impression is that the officer was legally justified in using deadly force," Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University professor who tracks fatal shootings where officers have faced criminal charges, told the Columbus Dispatch.

"It's a terribly tragic situation, and my heart goes out to the girl and her family and friends," he said. "But from looking at the video, it appears to me that a reasonable police officer would have had a reasonable apprehension of an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death being imposed against an officer or someone else. That's the legal standard."

He added: "I don't know what the officer could have done differently. Based on what I saw, there was no opportunity for the officer to de-escalate."

James Scanlon, a retired Columbus Division of Police SWAT officer who has testified as an expert in police use-of-force cases, told the Dispatch the officer wasn't trying to protect himself, "but to save the life of someone he doesn't even know. ... It's a shame that no one has recognized that that officer, in all likelihood, saved one or more lives."

The incident unfolded after Ma'Khia allegedly argued with two other young women over messy housekeeping in their home, according to the woman who cared for Ma'Khia in foster care, reports CNN.

"The older one told them to clean up the house because 'Mom doesn't like the house dirty,'" the woman, Angela Moore, said she was told afterward. "So that's how it all started."

Bryant, the Ma'Khia family cousin, said the situation was "chaotic. Nobody deserves that," he told Today. "Who could expect something like this to happen in their family?"

"She was very funny," Paula Bryant said of her daughter. "She had a beautiful personality. She was so sweet. So sweet."

She added: "All I'm going to say is that she was defending herself. And she was a young girl. She was 16. She should not have had to do that."