After a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed by police in Ohio, city officials released the body camera footage to increase accountability while still calling for patience as state investigators review the case.
The video shows the teen wielding a knife and an officer making a split-second decision to shoot her as she goes to attack another person.
The shooting happened in Columbus, Ohio, on April 20, around the same time a jury was handing its verdict down in Minnesota in a case of excessive police force by ex-cop Derek Chauvin.
The timing hasn’t been lost on many.
Columbus police and city leaders held a press conference on April 21 to update the public on the shooting and to release the 911 calls as well as body camera footage. The press conference was streamed on social media.
The 911 callers provided very little information to dispatchers. During one, a caller goes off the line for several seconds at a time, but says there are girls fighting and one is trying to stab others. The caller then went off the line for several more seconds.
“Get here now!” she yelled at one point. “We need a police officer here now.”
At 4:35 p.m., officers were dispatched to the disturbance and the first officer arrived at 4:45 p.m. Interim Police Chief Mike Woods explained because the call was listed as a disturbance, which led to the elongated response time.
The officer, identified as Nicholas Reardon, arrived and got out of his car, according to the body camera footage. He immediately asked what was going on as a fight spilled from a driveway to in front of the officer.
One of the girls, identified as Ma’Khia Bryant, then goes after another person. In a slowed-down version of the video, a knife can clearly be seen in her hand.
The officer yells, then fires at Bryant and hit her. She fell to the ground and officers tried to provide aid in the aftermath. EMS arrived about six minutes after the shooting.
Reardon is white and Bryant is Black.
“You shot my baby,” a witness can be heard telling Reardon. “Are you f****** serious?”
The person later added, “She’s a f****** kid. Are you stupid? A f****** kid?
Woods explained an officer can use deadly force even if they are not being attacked themselves. If they witness an assault where someone could lose their life, the officer can use deadly force. The officers are also trained to shoot at a person’s torso and not wound them because by shooting at body parts such as the arms or legs, there is an increased chance of missing and the bullet hitting someone else.
“We try to minimize danger to others,” Woods said.
The shooting sparked protests in Columbus and many noticed that it was around the same time the jury found Chauvin guilty of murdering a black man, George Floyd, during an arrest. Some on social media immediately claimed the Chauvin verdict changed nothing about police and race relations in the U.S.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said body cameras increase accountability on both sides of the lens and no longer just a matter of what one side claimed happened.
All of the facts about the shooting are not in, but Ginther called the shooting a “tragedy.”
Transparency and accountability are critical to the community, Ginther said. The question now is whether Bryant needed to die. He said the community needs to be careful not to compromise the state investigation, and if the officer was wrong, he will face justice.
“If he was, we will hold him accountable,” Ginther said.
Woods said the police department would help state investigators by providing requested information. But, he stressed the agency would not interfere in the investigation. State agents will forward the case to prosecutors, who will present it to a grand jury for possible criminal charges.
Director of Public Safety Ned Pettus said the case requires people to pause and wait for the facts from the independent investigation. They will have to look at what the officer saw, how much time he had to process the situation and what would have happened if he didn’t take action. Right now, those answers don’t exist.
But, it didn’t change the fact a teenage girl was dead at the hands of the police, Pettus said.
“Under any circumstances, that is a horrendous tragedy,” he said.