Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and the US Senator. Sherrod Brown are among three lawmakers who have called for a federal investigation into 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant’s stay in foster care before she was shot dead on April 20 by a Columbus police officer.
Bryant was in a foster home and in the care of Franklin County Children’s Services when Columbus Police Officer Nicholas Reardon shot and killed Bryant after throwing a knife at another young woman. Reardon was among officers responding to a report of an attempted stab at the foster home where Bryant, his sister and other teenagers lived on Legion Lane in the southeast of the city.
Now, Beatty, D-Columbus, Brown, D-Ohio and Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, urged US Department of Health and Human Services‘ Administration for children and families to help Franklin County Children’s Services as they go through the details of Bryant’s case.
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In a letter to Acting Deputy Secretary JooYeun Chang of the Administration for Children and Families and Acting Director Robinsue Frohboese in the Civil rights office – the two divisions of the HHS – Brown, Beatty and Wyden also demand that the Civil Rights Office launch an independent investigation into the events leading to Bryant’s death.
All three lawmakers said they were making the request on behalf of Bryant’s biological parents Paula Bryant and Myron Hammonds.
“The federal government has an obligation to protect the civil rights of all individuals, and in particular of children, youth and parents involved in federally funded child protection systems,” says joint statement legislators. “When a child dies in foster care, the system has failed. This failed Ma’Khia Bryant, who lived with her foster family for about two months before a police officer shot and killed her outside that house.
“Ma’Khia should be alive today.”
Bryant’s family had previously hired Columbus lawyer Michelle Martin, who said on Tuesday she made her own formal request to such a HHS survey in May.
While blaming the girl’s death on “a bureaucracy ill-equipped to protect ‘children’ at a time of greater uncertainty and greater need,” Martin said at the end of April that she would ask the US department to Justice to investigate the shooting – a request also made by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and City Attorney Zach Klein.
In the meantime, the shooting is under investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and will ultimately be presented to a Franklin County grand jury, which is the routine procedure for all fatal uses of force. by law enforcement officers in the county.
Bryant spent two years moving between at least five different foster homes, according to the three lawmakers.
The Dispatch previously obtained documents revealing that in March 2018, Ma’Khia Bryant, a younger sister and two brothers (all minors) were taken into emergency detention by Franklin County Children’s Services.. She and her three siblings were initially placed with a grandmother, Jeanene Hammonds, but after about 16 months they were taken out of her care and placed in a foster home – in part, officials said. state, because Hammonds had lost his home.
In January 2020, the agency filed a petition seeking permanent custody of the girls, a request that was still pending in court at the time of Bryant’s death, The Dispatch previously reported.
A spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services was asked by The Dispatch on Tuesday to comment on lawmakers’ request.
In the letter sent to federal agencies, lawmakers argue that “the foster care system is broken” and refer to a nationwide shortage of foster parents.
Lawmakers Cite Data Showing Ohio Children Placed In Foster Care at a higher rate of 10% than the national average. Research also shows that Ohio lags behind other states in financial support provided to a child in state custody and placed with a family member, as opposed to a child placed in an approved foster home.
The state does not give equal pay to “family caregivers” – the official term for parents who foster children – in apparent defiance of a 2017 order of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Ohio pays its roughly 8,000 licensed foster parents between $ 300 and $ 6,000 per month per child, with additional funds paid for children with special needs. Caregivers, however, are paid $ 310 per month per child for a period of only six to nine months, The Dispatch previously reported.
Additionally, lawmakers have referred to studies showing that black American youth are more likely to die in a police shootout as young white Americans.
“These inequalities have occurred in Ma’Khia’s life and are all too familiar to children and youth in the foster care system, especially black and brown children who are overrepresented in the child welfare system. “, according to the joint statement.
Lawmakers specifically asked the HHS Office for Civil Rights to review whether Ohio and Franklin County Children’s Services are complying with federal foster care and removal requirements, standards reception, protection of children’s civil rights and security risk assessment.
“The death of a child is one death too many, and we cannot let these children slip through the cracks,” the letter read. “I (we) support Paula Bryant and Myron Hammonds’ request to open an investigation into the circumstances leading to Ma’Khia’s death so that they can receive the clarity they deserve on their daughter’s death. “