Teenage girl fatally shot by police in Ohio, officials say
By Neil Vigdor and Bryan Pietsch
A teenage girl who the police say threatened two girls with a knife was fatally shot by an officer in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday afternoon, shortly before a jury reached a guilty verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in last year’s killing of George Floyd.
The girl’s death cast an immediate pall over public expressions that justice had been served in Floyd’s case and touched off protests in Ohio’s capital city.
At a news conference Tuesday night, the Columbus Division of Police released body camera footage from the officer, who officials said had been responding to a 911 call about an attempted stabbing around 4:45 p.m. in the southeastern part of the city.
Officials said the video showed the teenager lunging at two other females with a knife as the officer arrived at the driveway of a residence. The officer then fired several times — four shots could be heard in the video — at the girl. She collapsed to the ground next to a car that had been parked in the driveway, where the body camera footage showed a knife on the ground.
The girl who was killed was identified as Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, by a spokeswoman for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said in an email Tuesday night that Ma’Khia had been in foster care.
“No matter what the circumstances, that family is in agony and they are in my prayers,” Ned Pettus, the public safety director for the city of Columbus, said during the news conference. “They deserve answers. Our city deserves answers. I want answers, but fast, quick answers cannot come at the cost of accurate answers.”
The name of the officer, who officials said had been taken off the street while the shooting was investigated, was not released. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will conduct an independent inquiry, which local officials said is standard whenever an officer shoots someone.
Earlier Tuesday night on Twitter, Mayor Andrew Ginther of Columbus urged residents to keep the peace as protesters descended on the scene.
“This afternoon a young woman tragically lost her life,” Ginther said. “We do not know all of the details. There is body-worn camera footage of the incident. We are working to review it as soon as possible.”
A woman interviewed by The Columbus Dispatch identified the victim, who was Black, as her teenage niece. The woman, Hazel Bryant, told the newspaper that her niece lived in a foster home and got into an altercation with someone else at the home.
Rayshawn Whiting said in an interview Tuesday night that he was at his brother’s house to watch the Chauvin verdict just a few blocks away from where the shooting took place when he heard gunshots. When he saw on social media what was going on, he walked down the street to join the throng of protesters who reached between 150 and 200 people at their peak.
“I’ve got daughters,” he said. “And I’m tired of it. I feel like a polar bear with the ice caps melting. We have nowhere to run. If we protect ourselves, we go to jail. If we don’t, we die.”
Chris Roberts said in an interview that he was in his backyard with his twin daughters when he heard the gunshots from just a few yards away. He said they ran in the house and called 911. Since the shooting, he said, his daughters did not want to be alone.
“How do I teach my daughters when you call for help, and you expect help to come, you could be on the other side of the gun?” he said.
A crowd of protesters gathered outside the city’s police building, local news media reported.
The teenager’s death quickly received widespread attention, including from Ben Crump, the Floyd family’s lawyer, amid a continuing reckoning over police accountability and systemic racism.
“As we breathed a collective sigh of relief today, a community in Columbus felt the sting of another police shooting” Crump said. “Another child lost! Another hashtag.”
Earlier Tuesday night, when members of the Columbus City Council were discussing the need for a civilian review board for police accountability, Shannon Hardin, the council’s president, addressed the shooting.
“As we watched the verdict from Minneapolis many talked about a sigh of relief, but there is a truth that for so many in our community there is no relief,” Hardin said. “This is not right. It’s not OK, and it can’t continue on.”
Michael Woods, the interim police chief of Columbus, said at the news conference later Tuesday night that it was unprecedented in the city for body camera footage to be released so quickly after a shooting by an officer.
“We wanted to get that out as soon as possible,” he said.
Columbus has been gripped by tension over police shootings since early December, when Casey Goodson Jr., 23, was shot to death at the entrance of his home by a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy assigned to a fugitive task force.
Members of the task force had been in the area looking for someone in an operation that had nothing to do with Goodson.
Two weeks later, Andre Hill, 47, was shot four times by a Columbus police officer who was responding to a call about a suspicious vehicle. When officers arrived to investigate, they encountered Hill, and one of the officers, Adam Coy, a 19-year veteran, opened fire within seconds. Coy, who was fired after the shooting, was charged with felony murder in the case.