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Columbus officials commit to transparent, independent investigation of fatal police shooting of teen girl

'I sure as hell wish it hadn’t happened,' police chief says
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Posted at 5:15 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 19:28:04-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — During a Wednesday news conference, Columbus police released additional body camera videos, 911 call audio and information on the fatal shooting by an officer of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who appeared to be swinging a knife at another person when she was shot Tuesday afternoon.

RELATED: 16-year-old girl fatally shot by police in Columbus, sparking protests outside police department

Interim Police Chief Michael Woods began the news conference by playing the first 911 call that dispatchers received at 4:32 p.m. about the incident that led to the shooting. In the call, an unidentified female can be heard asking the dispatcher to send police to the address because of a fight, while a loud argument can be heard in the background. The dispatcher repeatedly asked the caller if she could see a weapon involved, but she did not respond before hanging up the phone.

Watch the entire news conference in the video player below.

WARNING: This video contains extremely graphic images and language. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.

Columbus officials give update on fatal police shooting of teen girl

Woods said officers were dispatched at 4:35 p.m. and the first officer arrived at the scene at 4:44 p.m. He would later explain that the call came in as a “disturbance,” and was given a level two priority, saying there was some confusing information coming in as the dispatcher was trying to determine what was going on.

Police then played the only other 911 call about the incident, which was brief, as the caller hung up when they saw a police cruiser arrive at the scene.

Woods then played the body camera video for Officer Nicholas Rearden, the first officer on the scene and the officer who shot and killed Ma’Khia.

As Reardon arrives on scene, he begins asking people what’s going on. Three people, including Ma’Khia, can be seen fighting each other, and as Ma’Khia appears to begin swinging a knife at another woman, Reardon fires at her four times, causing her to collapse on the ground.

Several people, presumably members of Ma’Khia’s family, loudly curse at the officer and ask why he shot her.

“She had a knife, she just went at her,” Reardon responded.

As more officers arrive on scene and tend to Ma’Khia, Reardon again said, “She came at her with a knife.”

Columbus police then played the video in slow motion, providing a clear view of Ma’Khia holding a knife as she was shot by the officer. They then played two more body camera videos of other officers who responded to the scene.

Woods said that the next step is for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations to conduct an “independent and transparent investigation.”

“The Columbus Division of police will assist them, but we will not interfere in any investigative process that they have,” Woods said. “Our role is to provide them the information that they request and do so in a timely manner. We will not interfere. We will not provide input. We will allow them to conduct their investigation.”

After the investigation is conducted, it will be sent to the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, where it will be presented to a grand jury. An information packet will also be sent to Columbus police, who will review the incident for policy compliance and violations.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said that while we don’t know all the facts yet, we do know that a 16-year-old girl died tragically Tuesday.

“Bottom line, did Ma’Khia Bryant need to die yesterday? How did we get here? This is a failure on part of our community,” Ginther said. “Some are guilty, but all of us are responsible. BCI will determine if the officer involved was wrong, and if he was, we will hold him accountable as we have other officers who have committed wrongdoing criminally, or in violation of the policies and procedures of the division of police."

Ginther explained the city’s decision to release the body camera footage so soon after the incident, and while an independent investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations is still ongoing.

“I think we all knew as a city and as a community that there were a lot of things being said and shared out that were not consistent that we were seeing with our own eyes here,” Ginther said.

Woods answered a reporter’s question about why a taser wasn’t used by saying that, “When officers are faced with someone employing deadly force, deadly force can be the response the officer gives.”

He said the department’s policy is that if deadly force is not being perpetrated against someone, and the officer has the opportunity, cover, distance, and time to use a taser, they should. But when there is an active assault in which someone could lose their life, the policy states that the officer can use deadly force to stop the assault.

Woods also explained that officers are trained to shoot at the center of mass and not a leg or arm.

“There was a threat going on, a deadly force threat that was going on, so the officer is trained to shoot center mass, that the largest part of a body that is available to them,” Woods said. “Then you try to start shooting the legs or arms, rounds miss, and then they continue on and there are people behind that that could be a danger that are not committing anything. So we try and minimize any danger to anyone else if we have to use our firearm.

Woods, Ginther, and Public Safety Director Ned Pettus Jr. all spoke to the tragic death of the teen girl, and their commitment to being as transparent about the case as possible while not compromising the ongoing investigation.

“It's a tragedy,” Woods said. “There's — there's no other way to say it. It's a 16-year-old girl. I'm a father. Her family is grieving, regardless of the circumstances associated with this, a 16-year-old girl lost her life yesterday. I sure as hell wish it hadn’t happened.”

RELATED: WATCH: Columbus mayor gives update on deadly police shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant