The Columbus police officer who shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Ohio prosecutors said on Friday.
Ma’Khia was killed in April 2021 by officer Nicholas Reardon as she swung a knife at a young woman, seconds after pushing another woman to the ground. Bryant was Black. Reardon is white.
Police were responding to a 911 call from Ma’Khia’s foster home about a group of girls threatening to stab members of the household.
The killing led to a US justice department review of the police department in the Ohio capital.
Ma’Khia was shot four times. 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 does not imply criminal intent.
The killing further heightened tensions over police shootings of Black people, and also cast a light on the Ohio foster system.
Announcing the grand jury decision, special prosecutors Tim Merkle and Gary Shroyer said: “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 Ma’Khia was attacking, Shai-onta Craig, had lived at the home but returned and argued with her, according to Craig’s statement to police, which was released on Friday.
Reardon told investigators he did not think using Mace or a “hands-on” approach would have worked because of the knife in Ma’Khia’s hand, because he thought he was the only officer on scene and because Ma’Khia 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 conduct an internal review to determine whether Reardon followed department policy, the Columbus public safety department said.
Ma’Khia’s family expressed disappointment and said: “There should have been other non-deadly options available to deal with this situation.” The family also called for “full-scale changes” to Ohio’s foster-care system.
“Ohio’s foster care system is failing our children and we cannot stand by and allow this to continue,” they said. “As the one-year anniversary of Ma’Khia’s death approaches, her family is resolute in their fight for justice on her behalf.”
A foster parent, Angela Moore, told investigators neither Ma’Khia nor her sister, also in the home, ever displayed violence, but all the girls periodically argued.
A week after Ma’Khia’s death, the mayor of Columbus, Andrew Ginther, invited the US justice department to review the police department for possible “deficiencies and racial disparities”.
The US justice said 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 14th-largest US city – has seen 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 police officer who fatally shot Hill has pleaded not guilty to charges brought by the state attorney general.