Columbus mayor requests federal investigation of police force after Ma’Khia Bryant shooting, other deaths

Andrew Ginther, the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Wednesday asking for an investigation into the city’s police department following several police killings of Black people, including the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant last week.

The Democratic mayor said that while the city is committed to reform and has already established a number of “significant” changes in the past few years, it is not enough.

The Justice Department recently announced it is opening probes into policing in Louisville, Ky., over the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor during a police raid on her apartment, and in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd during an arrest last year. 

Ginther’s letter came on the same day a lawyer representing Bryant’s family said there should be a federal investigation into the teen’s fatal shooting by a Columbus police officer, along with a probe into the handling of Bryant’s foster care placement.

Attorney Michelle Martin wouldn’t discuss details of why Bryant was in foster care, besides the fact that at the time, the family needed help, but she did say that Bryant had been in the system for too long.

Bryant “was a 16-year-old vibrant, bubbly girl, whose life was cut short by many of our failing systems,” Martin told reporters Wednesday. “We are going to investigate every agency that had the time and the opportunity to prevent Ma’Khia’s death.”

In addition to a federal probe, Martin called for an investigation of Ohio’s health and human services agency, which oversees the state’s foster care system.

Bryant’s family speaks out

Bryant’s father, Myron Hammonds, and her paternal grandmother, Jeanene Hammonds, were present at the news conference and spoke about the pain of losing the teenager.

“To know Ma’Khia is to know life,” said Myron Hammonds, who was on the scene the day his daughter was shot. “She was with me for 16 years and she was my peacemaker.”

Ma’Khia Bryant, seen in a selfie, was living at a foster home in southeast Columbus where the shooting took place. The Bryant family’s lawyer has also called for a probe into the handling of her foster care placement. (Ma’Khia Bryant/Don Bryant and Paula Bryant/The Associated Press)

Jeanene Hammonds called last Tuesday’s events “tragic,” and “unimaginable.” 

“I want justice for my grandbaby,” she said. 

Bryant’s two younger sisters, Janiah and Azariah Bryant, were also at the media conference. Janiah Bryant was living with Ma’Khia at the foster home in the southeast Columbus neighbourhood where the shooting took place.

Family members did not speak about the day of the shooting or what they saw, with Martin citing the family’s independent investigation into what happened.

Bryant shot on day of Chauvin trial verdict

Bryant died on April 20, less than an hour before the guilty verdict was delivered in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd’s death. 

Columbus police officer Nicholas Reardon fired four shots at Bryant as she swung a knife at a young woman.

Critics of police use of force and witnesses to the shooting — including Bryant’s father and grandmother — want to know why the officer didn’t use other tactics to stop Bryant, such as deploying a stun gun.

But many use of force experts and even some civil rights attorneys have said the officer followed his training and may have saved the girl Bryant was attacking. The national Fraternal Order of Police called the shooting “an act of heroism, but one with tragic results.”

Demonstrators chant Ma’Khia Bryant’s name during a community vigil for the girl on April 21 at Douglas Elementary School in Columbus. (Joshua A. Bickel/The Columbus Dispatch/The Associated Press)

Events leading to the shooting began late in the afternoon after someone in Bryant’s foster home called 911 — it’s still unclear who — and said someone was trying to stab people in the house.

Reardon, who has been on the force since December 2019, was dispatched minutes later.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Reardon asked upon exiting his vehicle.

In the next 11 seconds, Bryant was seen charging at 20-year-old Shai-Onta Lana Craig-Watkins with a kitchen knife and then moving on to 22-year-old Tionna Bonner before Reardon yelled, “Get down!” and fired four consecutive shots into Bryant’s chest.

Anger over other Columbus police shootings

Hours after Bryant was shot, protesters flooded the streets of downtown Columbus, chanting her name along with the names of the other Black people who have been killed during encounters with Columbus police in recent months. 

One of those names was Andre Hill, 47.

WATCH | Fatal shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant renews anger over policing:

There is growing anger and debate after a police officer fatally shot a Black teenager in Columbus, Ohio. But while the case comes at a sensitive time, an ongoing investigation has so far not determined that the officer exceeded his authority or used excessive force. 2:08

Earlier Wednesday, Adam Coy, the officer who fatally shot Hill in December, pleaded not guilty to an additional charge of reckless homicide in that case.

The plea came minutes before the state attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the former officer, dropped two dereliction of duty charges against Coy.

But the prosecution remains confident in their case against Coy.

“Our case is sound and based on the facts and we are prepared to move forward with the trial,” said a statement from Anthony Pierson, senior assistant attorney general. 

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