Interim Columbus police Chief Michael Woods issued a final statement at a Wednesday press conference about the shooting death of a 16-year-old girl by an officer.
“I wish to hell it hadn’t happened.”
Ma’Khia Bryant’s death after being shot by a Columbus police officer on Tuesday afternoon has become the latest in a series of high-profile shootings by police across the country.
Activists and city leaders alike called for reform, both with police policy and in efforts to curb the rising violence in Columbus.
As more information was being released about the shooting, which occurred around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday on the 3100 block of Legion Lane, Ohio State University students were staging a sit-in on campus about about 500 students marched down High Street.
Bryant died at a nearby hospital on Tuesday after she was shot by an officer who was responding to a call about an attempted stabbing.
Woods said Wednesday that police had received a 911 call about the attempted stabbing that brought officer to the scene. Police had not established as of Wednesday who placed that call.
In that call at 4:32 p.m. Tuesday, screaming can be heard as the caller asks police to come and says someone is trying to stab them. The police dispatcher tries to get more information and there is screaming before the call is disconnected.
A second 911 call, placed around 4:48 p.m., resulted in the caller hanging up after seeing a police cruiser on the scene.
Columbus police Officer Nicholas Reardon, hired in December 2019, was the first officer on scene and was identified Wednesday as the officer who shot Bryant.
Reardon’s body camera showed what played out when he arrived on the scene.
There were multiple people in the driveway of the home and the video shows Bryant with a knife in hand and making movement toward another young woman, who falls backwards to the ground at the officer’s feet.
Bryant then turns and moves toward another young woman, who is up against the hood of a sedan parked in the driveway. The video shows Bryant holding the knife and moving it in a motion that appears to be an attempt to swing the knife at the young woman’s upper body.
Reardon is heard saying “Get down” multiple times and then fires his weapon.
Four shots are heard — but police have not confirmed whether additional shots were fired — and Bryant falls to the ground. Officers provided medical aid to Bryant at the scene until paramedics arrived. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died at 5:21 p.m.
Minutes after the shooting, people began to gather and yell at Reardon and two other officers on scene, Serge Akpalo and Eric Channel, both of whom were hired in 2014. The protests grew throughout Tuesday night.
Franklin County Children Services confirmed Tuesday that Bryant had been in foster care under their custody.
Donavon Brinson, who lives across the street from the foster home, saw some girls come out of that house and then he heard commotion.
“They were calling each other the B-word so I figured it was just a girl fight,” Brinson said.
He went inside. Then the police arrived, and he heard four shots. He peeked out his laundry room window and saw the aftermath — 16-year-old Bryant shot and dying on the ground.
He immediately thought about his security camera on his garage. He watched the footage. He saw the fight, saw the glint of the knife.
And while what happened is tragic, Brinson said, it all happened so fast that he didn’t see how the officer could have time to have done anything else.
“If the officer hadn’t done what he did, I think we’d have two girls dead,” he said. “It was violent and all just happened so fast.”
The foster mother answered the door of her home Wednesday morning, but said only that she was at work when the shooting happened and that she didn’t want to talk more.
Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said Wednesday that Bryant’s death has highlighted issues across the Columbus community that need addressing.
“The fact that we had a 16-year-old armed and involved in physical violence, that’s something for us to look in the mirror and say, ‘What are we doing,'” Ginther said. “‘What else can we be doing?”‘
Ginther said the independent investigation being conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will determine if Reardon acted appropriately.
“Bottom line: Did Ma’Khia Bryant need to die yesterday? How did we get here?” Ginther said. “This is a failure on the part of our community. Some are guilty, but all of us are responsible.”
Tuesday’s shooting happened about 20 minutes before the guilty verdict was announced in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer convicted of all three charges (two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter) in George Floyd’s death.
Bryant’s death on the day of the conviction in the Floyd case prompted protests Tuesday night at the scene of the shooting and Downtown.
Many of the protests and questions circulating around the shooting have centered on police training and when using a firearm versus another method, such as a Taser, is more effective or possible.
Woods said firearms training dictates that an officer fires until the threat is over. He has said the use of force is authorized if the safety of the officer or a third person is jeopardized.
Down the street from where the shooting took place, Ira Graham III was working from home on Wednesday. He works in registration at Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital and also is a photographer and videographer.
Graham has lived in the neighborhood for 19 years. He did not know Bryant but had seen her walking down the street at times.
He said he heard the gunshots Tuesday afternoon. Graham went down to the house and saw officers performing CPR on Bryant.
Graham said he saw the video from the police body camera of Bryant’s actions.
“I believe in truth and facts. Video doesn’t lie,” he said. “She was in full attack mode.”
“She needed to be stopped at that point,” Graham said. “That young lady’s life was at stake.”
On Wednesday, the White House and celebrities such as actress Blake Lively and singer Kehlani issued statements and calls for reform after Bryant’s death.
The White House called Ma’Khia’s shooting “tragic.”
“She was a child,” President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters Wednesday. “We’re thinking of her friends and family in the communities that are hurting and grieving her loss. We know that police violence disproportionately impacts Black and Latino people in communities and that Black women and girls, like Black men and boys, experience higher rates of police violence. We also know that there are particular vulnerabilities that children in foster care, like Ma’Khia, face.”
Psaki noted that Ma’Khia’s death came “just as America was hopeful of a step forward after the traumatic and exhausting trial of Derek Chauvin and the verdict that was reached.”
The White House is focused on addressing systemic racism and bias “head on” and passing laws that will put in place reforms at police departments around the country, Psaki said.
City leaders have reacted with continued calls for police reform. City Council President Shannon Hardin spoke Tuesday night, about 40 minutes after Bryant had died, at a virtual meeting to gather information about the civilian review board members. At that time, which was prior to the release of the body camera footage, Hardin said transparency was paramount.
“The truth is that nothing that we will do will bring this young baby girl back,” Hardin said. “Nothing will stop the family from grieving.”
Wednesday morning, Hardin issued a statement saying that police need to change training so that “guns are not the final answer to every threat.”
“We must implement a new vision of safety in Columbus,” he said.
Ginther called the situation “tragic,” and said releasing the body camera footage so quickly on Tuesday was to be transparent with the public. Ginther also touted his plan to upgrade the division’s body cameras following the shooting of Andre Hill in December.
Columbus Public Safety Director Ned Pettus Jr. called the shooting a “horrendous tragedy.”
“But the video shows us there is more to this,” Pettus said. He urged people to be patient. He said the city needs to ask what information the officer had and how much time did he have to process it and act.
“And what would have happened if he had taken no action at all,” Pettus said. “We don’t yet have those answers.”
What happens now?
As is now city policy, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is conducting a criminal investigation into Tuesday’s shooting. BCI, which is overseen by the Ohio Attorney General’s office, will then pass their findings to a prosecutor — either the AG’s office or the Franklin County prosecutor — for consideration before a grand jury.
Once that process is completed, police will conduct an internal review to determine whether the officers who responded acted within policy.
The shooting could also be reviewed by the city’s Civilian Review Board. That board, whose members are set to be approved by City Council in the coming weeks, has not yet determined a structure for what cases will be reviewed and how those reviews will be conducted.
Woods said the the Columbus Division of Police will cooperate with BCI’s investigation.
Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said police will release the information they can, but they do not want to jeopardize the investigation.
Dispatch reporters Holly Zachariah and Mark Ferenchik and USA Today reporter Michael Collins contributed to this story.