COLUMBUS, Ohio – The second-guessing of a Columbus police officer who shot and killed a 16-year-old girl Tuesday as she swung a knife toward another girl began just seconds after the last shot, as bystanders demanded to know why the officer had fired his gun. It continued on social media as observers questioned why a stun gun wasn't used, why the officer didn't try to shoot the girl in the leg instead, or why he didn't try to otherwise disarm her.
Interim Columbus Police Chief Michael Woods received similar questions at a Wednesday news conference about the death of Ma’Khia Bryant. He and a police training expert said officers undergo specific training when faced with deadly force situations that can limit their options when making split-second decisions.
The questions about Officer Nicholas Reardon's actions — he shot Bryant four times within seconds of arriving on the scene — came just a week after body cam footage showed a different Columbus police officer using a stun gun on Miles Jackson during a struggle in a hospital room after officers discovered Jackson had a gun concealed in his sweatpants.
At that point, the gun was not visible, although it would go off moments later. Jackson was shot and killed a few minutes after that as officers with their weapons drawn shouted that Jackson had fired a second time.
WHY DIDN'T OFFICER REARDON USE A STUN GUN ON BRYANT INSTEAD?
Columbus policy allows officers to use deadly force, such as a gun, when faced with someone with a weapon or employing another form of deadly force. That could be someone aiming a gun at the officer or at a third person in a confrontation witnessed by the officer.
“If there’s not deadly force being perpetrated on someone else at that time, an officer may have the opportunity to have cover, distance and time to use a Taser,” Woods said. “But if those things aren’t present, and there is an active assault going on in which someone could lose their life, the officer can use their firearm to protect that third person.”
Officers are trained not to use “less deadly force” on individuals using deadly force themselves, said Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief who now testifies as an expert witness in use-of-force cases.
WHY DIDN'T THE OFFICER SHOOT AT BRYANT'S LEG TO STOP HER INSTEAD OF FIRING DIRECTLY AT HER CHEST?
Officers are trained that when they use their gun, they must stop the threat in front of them, Woods said. That means aiming at a person's center mass, the largest part of a person's body.
“When you try to start shooting legs, or arms, rounds miss and then they continue on and there are people behind that, that could be in danger that are not committing anything,” Woods said. “So we try and minimize any danger to anyone else if we have to use our firearm.”
Officers aren't trained to shoot and kill, Scott said, but to “neutralize the threat,” which is why they focus on center mass. Scott called the scenario of an officer shooting an armed suspect in the leg “Hollywood stuff” that doesn’t happen in real life.
WHY DID THE OFFICER SHOOT BRYANT FOUR TIMES INSTEAD OF JUST ONCE?
Scott said the answer is similar to focusing on center mass, with the goal of stopping the threat, or in this case responding to the danger the other girl was in. “If that officer had to shoot her another time because the threat was still prevalent, he would have been justified based on the law and I imagine on his policy," Scott said.
WHY DIDN'T THE OFFICER TRY TO PHYSICALLY RESTRAIN BRYANT INSTEAD OF USING A WEAPON OF ANY KIND?
Trying to disarm an armed person without using force can have deadly consequences, even in the case of someone with a knife, who could easily slash an officer, Scott said.
In cases of unarmed people, officers have a variety of options, including pepper spray or expandable batons, he said.
WHAT POLICIES HAS OHIO PUT IN PLACE TO DEAL WITH POLICE USE OF FORCE?
Almost six years ago, an Ohio public safety board developed a standard whereby officers must limit their use of deadly force to defending themselves or others from serious injury or death.
Ohio police departments must adopt the standards as minimum policies. Agencies also must have policies for training officers in the standards and disciplining them when violations occur.
Then Republican Gov. John Kasich created the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board after a series of fatal police shootings, including the 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
In December, the standard was updated to prohibit all chokeholds and neck restraints except when officers are defending themselves or others from serious injury or death.
Law enforcement agencies employing just over 8 of every 10 of the state's approximately 29,000 police officers have adopted the standards to date.
__ This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of the Ohio teen's first name. She’s Ma’Khia Bryant, not Ma’Kiah Bryant.