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‘A Horrendous Tragedy’: The Chaotic Moments Before a Police Shooting in Columbus

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Law enforcement authorities on Wednesday released 911 calls and new body-camera videos showing the chaotic moments surrounding the killing of a Black 16-year-old girl who was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer responding to a call about a disturbance.

Michael Woods, the interim chief of the Columbus Division of Police, identified the officer who shot the girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, as Nicholas Reardon, and said he had been on the force since December 2019. Officer Reardon, who is white, has been placed on administrative leave as the shooting is investigated.

Ms. Bryant was killed less than an hour before a jury in Minneapolis handed down its guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, and her death outside her foster home on a suburban block in southeastern Columbus quickly set off new waves of anger and protests over police killings.

Officials in Columbus pleaded for patience from the public on Wednesday as they released new body-camera footage from three responding officers that appears to show Ms. Bryant lunging with a knife toward a person dressed in pink seconds before the officer shoots her four times.

“A teenage girl is dead, and she’s dead at the hands of a police officer. Under any circumstance, that is a horrendous tragedy,” Ned Pettus Jr., the public safety director for the city of Columbus, said during a news conference on Wednesday. “But the video shows there is more to this. It requires us to pause, take a close look at the sequence of events, and though it’s not easy, wait for the facts as is determined by an independent investigation.”

Mr. Pettus said a third-party investigation being conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will need to answer key questions, including what information the officer had, what he saw at the scene, and what would have happened if he “had taken no action at all.”

Chief Woods said officers are allowed to use deadly force to protect somebody who is in danger of being killed by another person. A Taser, he said, is generally reserved for situations where there is no immediate threat of death.

Chief Woods said officers were called to a disturbance, but did not know that a possible attempted stabbing might be taking place. He also said that officers are not required to call out notice that they are about to fire their weapon, though they try to if there is time.

The shooting unfolded after 911 dispatchers got a call at 4:32 p.m. on Tuesday from what sounded like a female caller shouting that someone was trying to stab them. Screams could be heard in the background. The 911 dispatcher asked the caller if they saw any weapons.

“We need a police officer here now,” the caller responded.

In the aftermath of Ms. Bryant’s killing, activists and neighbors questioned whether the officer could have used a less-lethal weapon, including a Taser, or any other tactic to break up the chaotic scene that would have ended with Ms. Bryant alive.

A protest was planned on Wednesday outside Police Headquarters.

“They didn’t de-escalate the situation,” said DeJuan Sharp, an organizer with a local Black Lives Matter group called the Downtownerz. “I don’t know why the gun was the first thing for him to use.”

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