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Ohio police fatally shoot Black teenage girl just before Chauvin verdict

In an image from police bodycam video that the Columbus Police Department played during a news conference Tuesday night, a teenage girl (foreground) appears to wield a knife during an altercation before being shot by a police officer.
In an image from police bodycam video that the Columbus Police Department played during a news conference Tuesday night, a teenage girl (foreground) appears to wield a knife during an altercation before being shot by a police officer.Columbus Police Department via WSYX-TV via Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tuesday’s fatal shooting of a Black teenager by Columbus police stoked grief and anger just as the murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was being celebrated as a sign of long-elusive accountability for law enforcement.

Police said at a news conference that the girl had threatened two others with a knife before the shooting, playing segments of body camera video that showed the victim lunging toward someone in a driveway before an officer fired four shots. A knife is visible in the driveway next to the girl as police perform CPR on her.

’'We know, based on this footage, the officer took action to protect another young girl in our community,’' Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, said at the news conference. ’'But a family is grieving tonight, and this young 15-year-old girl will never be coming home.’'

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Family members and Franklin County Children’s Services identified the victim to local media as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant and said she had been in foster care. Police have not named the victim and said that she was 15 years old. Paula Bryant told WBNS that the victim was her daughter, ’'a very loving, peaceful little girl.’'

The incident prompted demonstrators to gather in the neighborhood where the violence unfolded and outside Columbus police headquarters, with many questioning whether police could have taken less lethal action in the case.

Neighbor Ira Graham III said that he had just come home from work when he heard shots and ran outside to see a teen girl on the ground badly wounded. It was disorienting coming so close to the verdict in the Chauvin trial, he said.

’'It’s just so ironic,’' he said. ’'This stuff just never ends.’'

Columbus Interim Police Chief Michael Woods said that just after 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, police received a 911 call from someone who reported that women were trying to stab them and then hung up. Dispatchers ’'were unable’' to gather any information about what weapons were at the scene, he added.

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Body-camera footage shows a white officer emerge from a vehicle as the victim appears to chase someone, who falls onto the sidewalk. The teen then turns toward someone else wearing a pink sweat suit and takes a swing at her head. The officer fires four shots at the girl, leaving her sprawled next to a car in the driveway.

’'She had a knife. She just ran at her,’' one officer says on the footage.

Video taken at the scene by a neighbor shortly after the shooting shows two police officers kneeling over the girl. One is performing chest compressions. She appears unresponsive and blood is pooled on the ground beneath her. Around them, several more officers tape off the area as family and neighbors cry.

One neighbor says, ’'He shot her four times.’'

Hazel Bryant, who identified herself as the victim’s aunt, told the Columbus Dispatch that her niece got into a fight with another person at her foster home. Bryant said the victim had a knife but dropped it before the officer shot her.

Ginther and other Columbus officials vowed to release more information ’'as soon as it becomes available’' and appealed to residents to ’'remain calm,’' as the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation opened a case on the shooting.

’'No matter the circumstances, that family is in agony and they are in my prayers. They deserve answers,’' Columbus director of Public Safety Ned Pettus Jr. said. ’'But fast, quick answers cannot come at the cost of accurate answers.’'

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Pettus, who is Black, added that the teen ’'could be my granddaughter.’'

Woods said that full body-camera footage of the incident was not shown because of a public records process that requires officials to blur the faces of juveniles. He added that per the division’s policy, officers can use deadly force to protect themselves or a third party.

’'Whether this applies with that will be part of an investigation,’' he said at the news conference. The officer who shot and killed the teen was not identified, although they would be taken off patrol, Woods added.

The shooting struck a raw nerve as Chauvin’s trial for the death of George Floyd came to an end and leaders including President Biden emphasized the need for broader changes to policing and greater trust between law enforcement and their communities.

’'As we watched the verdict from Minneapolis many talked about the sigh of relief — but there is a truth that for so many in our community there is no relief,’' said Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin at a Tuesday meeting related to a new civilian review board for police.

’'This is not all right. It’s not OK,’' he said, ’'and it can’t continue on.’'

Following the incident, a crowd of about 60 people gathered at the scene on Columbus’s southeast side, some using bullhorns to denounce another fatal police shooting.

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They demanded answers from police officers standing watch on the cordoned-off perimeter. The crowd began to disperse about 10 p.m. as Karla Harris, a cofounder of Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children, told people to go home.

’'The baby is gone,’' Harris said. ’'We need it to be over. We’re not getting anywhere. Answers are going to be a while.’'

Late on Tuesday, about 100 protesters circled the streets of downtown Columbus, followed by vehicles honking horns, waving Black Lives Matter flags. and chanting, ’'No justice, no peace’' as they passed the Statehouse, City Hall, and police headquarters.