The Columbus Police Department has identified the officer involved in the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant as more details emerge about the Tuesday afternoon shooting, and as community members challenge the assertion that immediate lethal force was justified.
Columbus police Officer Nicholas Reardon, who has been with the department since December 2019, was identified on Wednesday as the officer who first responded to the 911 call about an attempted stabbing at the 3100 block of Legion Lane before opening fire on Bryant within seconds.
“I understand the outrage and emotion around this incident — a teenage girl is dead, and she’s dead at the hands of a police officer,” said Ned Pettus, director of the Columbus Public Safety Department during a Wednesday news briefing. “Under any circumstances, that is a horrendous tragedy. But the video shows that there is more to this. It requires us to pause, 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 shooting happened on April 20, just 20 minutes before the guilty verdict was announced in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. Twelve jurors convicted Chauvin of murder in the second degree while committing a felony, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
Police received two 911 calls before the shooting. One call was placed at 4:32 p.m. from where the shooting would happen. During that call a woman pleaded for help before hanging up, as screaming could be heard in the background.
“We got … girls here trying to fight us, trying to stab us, trying to put her hands on our grandma. We need a police officer here now.” the caller said. “We got these … grown girls over here, trying to fight us.”
Interim Police Chief Michael Woods said police aren’t yet certain who placed the call.
In a second call placed at 4:48 p.m., someone told the dispatcher, “Never mind, police are already here,” as a police cruiser pulled up at the scene.
Woods said officers knew only that a “disturbance” was occurring in the residential neighborhood when they arrived.
Footage from Reardon’s body camera released on Tuesday after the shooting captured what transpired after he arrived at the scene.
There were several people gathered in a driveway in front of a home, as Bryant made a movement at another female who fell to the ground in front of the officer.
Bryant then moved towards a different female who was leaning against a parked sedan, and made a swinging motion towards her with a knife in her hand.
Reardon said “Get down” several time before opening fire, striking Bryant several times in the chest. Bryant fell to the ground and officers began administering aid. About 10 seconds passed between when Reardon closed the door to the police cruiser and when he first opened fire. Bryant was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 5:21 p.m.
Three additional pieces of footage released on Wednesday provide an extended look at what happened after the shooting. Officers Serge Akpalo and Eric Channel, both hired in 2014, were also on the scene.
Bystanders began yelling that Reardon did not have to use his gun.
“She had a knife. She just went at her,” Reardon said.
“She’s a f-cking kid, man! Damn, are you stupid?” a man standing nearby replied.
After the shooting, bystanders confronted an officer for allegedly shouting “blue lives matter.” An off-camera woman asked, “Did he just say ‘blue lives matter’?”
A bystander captured the moments after the shooting took place, including the exchange about the blue lives matter comment.
Family members of Bryant, who was in the care of Franklin County Children Services in foster care at the time of her death, have pushed back against the narrative that immediate lethal force was required.
Hazel Bryant, the teen’s aunt, said her niece was acting in self-defense. “My niece was defending herself,” she said. “Those were grown, adult women. It looked like that was a child. That was not no child. Those were women attacking my niece, and she was defending herself. I’m angry right now.”
On social media, users echoed the idea that lethal force wasn’t necessary and said the officer should have implemented de-escalation techniques.
Users also pointed out that heavily armed white men have been taken into custody alive even after killing multiple people.
Members of the community in Columbus said police never told Bryant to put the knife down.
“No de-escalation whatsoever,” a man said in a video shared to social media.
“Nope, they didn’t,” one woman said. “They didn’t so if the news tries to say that, that’s bullsh-t.”
The neighbors also said Bryant was defending herself and was being attacked by the other group. They claimed it was Bryant who placed the 911 call.
“She was defending herself on her property. Someone was trying to attack her,” a man said.
“Just got to blasting, ain’t ask no questions,” a woman said.
Woods said officers are authorized to use deadly force to protect themselves or a third party. He added that an investigation must be conducted to determine whether Reardon was justified in his actions.
“What I can say is that when officers are faced with someone employing deadly force, deadly force can be the response the officer gives,” Woods said.
Mayor Andrew J. Ginther questioned whether Bryant’s death was necessary. “Bottom line: Did Ma’Khia Bryant need to die yesterday? How did we get here?” Ginther said Wednesday. “This is a failure on the part of our community. Some are guilty, but all of us are responsible.”
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is handling the investigation into the case.