COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus police officer who shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant last year has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, Ohio prosecutors announced Friday.
Bryant was killed in April by Columbus police officer Nicholas Reardon as she swung a knife at a young woman, just seconds after pushing another woman to the ground. Bryant was Black and Reardon is white. Police were responding to a 911 call made from Bryant’s foster home about a group of girls threatening to stab members of the household.
The killing led to a Justice Department review of the police department in Ohio’s capital city.
Bryant was shot four times and died from her injuries. The coroner listed the cause of death as a homicide — a medical determination used in cases where someone has died at someone else’s hand, but not a legal finding. It doesn’t imply criminal intent.
Bryant’s killing further heightened tensions in Ohio’s capital city over fatal police shootings of Black people, and also cast a light on the state’s foster care system.
In announcing the grand jury decision, special prosecutors Tim Merkle and Gary Shroyer noted, “Under Ohio law the use of deadly force by a police officer is justified when there exists an immediate or imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another.” They said the decision followed a full review of the shooting.
The woman Bryant was attacking, Shai-onta Craig, had formerly lived at the home but had returned and argued with her that day, according to Craig’s statement to police released Friday.
Reardon told investigators he didn’t think using mace or a “hands-on” approach would have worked because of the knife in Bryant’s hand, because he thought he was the only officer on scene and because Bryant appeared much bigger than him.
“At the time I fired my weapon, I was in fear for the life of the female in pink,” Reardon said, referring to Craig.
The city will now conduct an internal review to determine whether Reardon’s actions followed department policy, the Columbus Public Safety Department tweeted.
Bryant’s family expressed disappointment that Reardon wasn’t charged and said in a statement: “There should have been other non-deadly options available to deal with this situation.” Her family also called for “full-scale changes” to Ohio’s foster-care system to prevent similar tragedies.
“Ohio’s foster care system is failing our children and we cannot stand by and allow this to continue,” the statement said. “As the one-year anniversary of Ma’Khia’s death approaches, her family is resolute in their fight for justice on her behalf.”
Foster parent Angela Moore told investigators that neither Bryant nor her sister, who was also in the home, had ever displayed violence, but all the girls in the home periodically argued.
A week after Bryant’s death, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther invited the Justice Department to review the police department for possible “deficiencies and racial disparities.”
The U.S. Justice Department accepted, and last fall agreed to review practices of the police department, saying its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services would conduct a review of what the department called technical assistance in such areas as training, recruitment including a focus on diversity and creating an early intervention system for officers.
Columbus — the country’s 14th largest city — has recorded several contested police shootings, including the 2021 killing of 27-year-old Miles Jackson in an emergency room; and the 2020 shooting death of 47-year-old Andre Hill. The white police officer who fatally shot Hill has pleaded not guilty to a number of charges brought against him by the state attorney general’s office.