Columbus police shootout of Ma’Khia Bryant seems legal

An Ohio criminal justice professor who studies the fatal use of force by law enforcement didn’t hesitate to deliver an opinion after watching Columbus cop body camera video fatally shooting 16-year-old girl Tuesday afternoon on the southeast side of town.

“My first impression is that the officer was legally justified in using lethal force,” said Philip Stinson, professor at Bowling Green State University. compiled national statistics on fatal shootings that led to criminal charges against officers.

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“This is a terribly tragic situation, and my heart goes out to the girl, her family and her friends,” he told The Dispatch on Wednesday. “But watching the video, it seems to me that a reasonable police officer would have had a reasonable apprehension of an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death imposed on a police officer or someone else. This is the norm. legal. “

Bodycam video shows stabbing attempt before filming

The body camera video, which the city first showed at a press conference late Tuesday night, captured the point of view of Officer Nicholas Reardon, who shot Ma’Khia Bryant seconds later. arriving outside a house in the 3100 block of Legion Lane on a report. of an attempted stab.

The video shows Bryant, who is holding a knife, pushes a falling woman back at the officer’s feet, then turns and charges at another woman in a pink outfit. The female in pink is pinned to a car in the driveway as Bryant appears to swing the knife at her, prompting Reardon to fire what looks like four shots.

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James Scanlon, a retired Columbus Division SWAT officer who spent 33 years in the division, has since trained officers and served as an expert witness at trials in use of force cases, was agree with Stinson’s assessment of the video.

“An officer is justified in using lethal force if his life or that of someone else is in danger,” Scanlon said Wednesday. “Few would say that there weren’t at least two lives out there that were in serious danger.”

In this case, Scanlon said, Reardon was not trying to protect himself, “but to save the life of someone he doesn’t even know … It’s a shame no one recognized this officer. , in all likelihood, saved one or more lives. “

Graham vs. Connor decision of the United States Supreme Court

The legal standard by which an officer’s use of force must be measured was established by the United States Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor.

The decision, released in 1989, gives police officers significant leeway in the use of lethal force when they perceive that a person poses an imminent threat to officers or others, and limits questioning. of this decision.

The ruling requires that an agent’s actions be “judged from the perspective of a reasonable agent on the scene, rather than the 20/20 view of hindsight.”

Any assessment of an officer’s actions must include “a consideration that police officers are often forced to render judgments in a fraction of a second – under tense, uncertain and rapidly changing circumstances,” the Minister concluded. court.

Stinson said Tuesday’s shooting is “a good reminder that officers sometimes have to make split-second, life or death decisions in violent street encounters … These situations can escalate in a matter of minutes. milliseconds, as we’ve seen here. “

Taser, other options not available before the filming of Ma’Khia Bryant

While such shootings inevitably prompt questions from the public as to why an officer did not use de-escalation techniques, deploy a Taser, or shoot the person in the leg, none of these options do. was available for the officer, the two experts agreed.

“I don’t know what the officer could have done differently,” Stinson said. “From what I saw, the officer was not given the opportunity to de-escalate.”

Scanlon said using a Taser is not an appropriate response “to a situation of lethal force” and that police are trained to target only one thing when firing to protect themselves or people. others – the “central mass” of the person she is trying. Stop.

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The officers are trained “to shoot until the threat is neutralized,” he said.

Scanlon said the body camera footage “is a textbook scenario that an officer would see in a movie during a“ shoot / don’t shoot. ”It’s exactly the kind of movie you would see in a movie. the training rooms where you have to do it. react to a lethal situation. “

Stinson said officers “are trained and retrained in use of force situations. One problem we see is that officers react inconsistently with their training. I haven’t seen that in this video.

“In this situation, the officer’s inaction, I believe, would probably have resulted in serious injury or death of one or more people.”

There was some confusion on Wednesday over whether Columbus City Council Chairman Shannon Hardin was suggesting the officer had options other than lethal force.

In a written statement released that morning, Hardin responded to the shooting by advocating a change in “the city’s training and recruiting process. We must push for a new culture in Columbus where guns are not not the definitive answer to all threats, and we must implement a new security vision in Columbus. “

Based on that remark, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther was invited to an afternoon press conference whether the officer should have handled Tuesday’s confrontation any differently.

“Many of the other reforms and efforts that should be involved will help,” the mayor said. “I’m not sure if any of these things would have resulted in a different result based on what we saw in these footage, but we won’t know until this investigation is complete.”

Council chief of staff Michael S. Brown said late Wednesday afternoon that Hardin’s statement had been misinterpreted.

Hardin was referring to a culture of gun violence “in our society as a whole,” not police officers using guns to respond to every threat, Brown said.

“This is not the only case.”

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