COLUMBUS, Ohio – Officials urged calm Wednesday as more details were released in the fatal shooting of a Black teenager by a Columbus police officer – an incident that has fueled renewed outrage over police-involved deaths.
The teen’s shooting came 20 minutes before a guilty verdict was announced against former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in the death of George Floyd last May in a case that galvanized attention across the U.S. on racial inequities and police brutality.
Officials identified the officer who fired the shots that killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant as Nicholas Reardon, who has been with the department since 2019. He has been placed on leave.
The state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which is probing the case, will pass its findings to a prosecutor – either the attorney general’s office or the Franklin County prosecutor – for consideration before a grand jury.
Columbus police released initial body camera footage less than six hours after the incident Tuesday afternoon, which appears to show the teen with a knife. Speaking during a Wednesday press conference, Columbus Public Safety Director Ned Pettus Jr. urged patience.
“I understand the outrage and emotion around this incident,” he said. “A teenage girl is dead, and she’s dead at the hands of a police officer. Under any circumstances, that is a horrendous tragedy. But the video shows that there is more to this. It requires us to pause and take a close look at the sequence of events and, though it’s not easy, wait for the facts as determined by an independent investigation.”
The White House called Ma’Khia’s shooting “tragic.”
“She was a child,” 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.”
In one of two 911 calls played at Wednesday’s news conference, screaming can be heard as a caller reports a girl trying to stab the individual before the call disconnects. Officers responded to the scene and reported the shooting at 4:45 p.m.
A portion of the bodycam footage was shown to the media Tuesday night in an unusual decision by the city and police. Additional footage was played during Wednesday’s press conference.
The video shows Reardon approaching a driveway where a group of people were standing. In the video, Ma’Khia appears to push or swing at another person, who falls to the ground.
Ma’Khia then appears to swing a knife at a girl who is on the hood of a car, and Reardon fires his weapon, striking Ma’Khia, who died a short time later.
Minutes after the shooting, a crowd starts gathering and yelling at the officers.
“Why’d you shoot her?” one bystander is heard saying. “You didn’t have to shoot her.”
Interim Columbus Police Chief Michael Wood said 90 seconds after shots were fired, a medic was called. Six minutes after the shooting, a medic arrived and transported Ma’Khia to the hospital.
Columbus Fire medics were cleared to come to the scene at 4:46 p.m., police said. Ma’Khia was transported in critical condition to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 5:21 p.m., police said.
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Mayor Andrew Ginther urged residents to wait for the facts before rushing to judgment and pointed to the shooting as a reflection of larger issues related to violence in communities.
“We don’t yet have all of the facts, but we do know that a 16-year-old girl, a child in this community, tragically died last night,” Ginther said. “How do we as a city and community come together to ensure that our kids never feel the need to resort to violence as a means of solving disputes or in order to protect themselves?”
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Shortly after the shooting, protesters with “Black Lives Matter” signs, megaphones and a loudspeaker joined the crowd gathered behind crime scene tape about a half-block away from the shooting scene. About 50 people had gathered by 8:30 p.m Tuesday.
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Kiara Yakita, founder of the Black Liberation Movement Central Ohio, said she was not surprised by another police shooting. “Why did they kill this baby?” she asked aloud.
“We don’t get to celebrate nothing,” K.C. Taynor said through a megaphone, referring to the Chauvin verdict. “…In the end, you know what, you can’t be Black.”
Eight people people have died in police shootings in Columbus since January 2020, including Andre Hill, an unarmed 47-year-old man who was shot last year by an officer who was later fired and indicted on charges of murder, felonious assault and dereliction of duty.
Contributing: Michael Collins, USA TODAY; Céilí Doyle; The Columbus Dispatch.