Law enforcement experts asked to weigh in on the deadly police shooting of a 16-year-old girl who was attacking another person with a knife say that the police officer's use of force was legally justified and that it appears he had no other options to de-escalate the situation.
The fatal shooting occurred Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio. Police were called to respond to a physical threat of violence at a house in the southeast area of the city. Bodycam footage released by the Columbus Division of Police after the incident shows the teen girl, Ma'Khia Bryant, attempting to stab two people with a knife. The video is from the perspective of Officer Nicholas Reardon, who arrived on the scene and shortly thereafter fired his weapon and shot Bryant before she could stab someone.
Bryant was taken to the hospital and later died of her injuries. Her death led many prominent leftists and celebrities to denounce "police terror" and the "injustice" of another death of a black person at the hands of the police.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that the death was "tragic," saying, "she was a child."
"We're thinking of her friends and family in the communities that are hurting and grieving her loss. We know that police violence disproportionately impacts black and Latino people in communities and that black women and girls, like black men and boys, experience higher rates of police violence. We also know that there are particular vulnerabilities that children in foster care, like Ma'Khia, face," Psaki said.
Experts point out, however, that the shooting appears justified and note that Officer Reardon likely saved the lives of one or more people.
After reviewing the video footage, Bowling Green State University professor Philip Stinson, who specializes in criminal justice and researches fatal shootings, told the Columbus Dispatch that Officer Reardon appears to have been "legally justified in using deadly force."
"It's a terribly tragic situation, and my heart goes out to the girl and her family and friends," he said Wednesday. "But from looking at the video, it appears to me that a reasonable police officer would have had a reasonable apprehension of an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death being imposed against an officer or someone else. That's the legal standard."
Another expert with 33 years of experience training police officers and serving as an expert witness at trials in use-of-force cases agreed after seeing the video.
"An officer is justified in using deadly force if his life or the life of someone else is at risk," retired Columbus Division of Police SWAT Officer James Scanlon said. "Few would argue that there weren't at least two lives there that were at serious risk."
He explained that Officer Reardon took action "to save the life of someone he doesn't even know. ... It's a shame that no one has recognized that that officer, in all likelihood, saved one or more lives."
Stinson added that the shooting is "a good reminder that officers sometimes have to make split-second, life-or-death decisions in violent street encounters. ... These situations can escalate in a matter of milliseconds, as we saw here."
Both experts agreed that Reardon did not appear to have any means of de-escalating the situation, whether by using a Taser or by shooting the knife-wielding assailant in the leg.
"I don't know what the officer could have done differently," Stinson said. "Based on what I saw, there was no opportunity for the officer to de-escalate."
He explained that use of a non-lethal weapon like a Taser isn't appropriate for "a lethal-force situation." He also told the Dispatch that police officers are trained to shoot at "center mass" of the person they're trying to stop, so as to protect themselves or others.
Officers are taught "to shoot until the threat is neutralized," he said.
Scanlon further described the incident as "a textbook scenario" of when officers are trained to use deadly force in a shoot/don't shoot scenario.
"That's exactly the kind of film you'd see in training rooms where you have to react to a deadly situation," he said.
Scanlon added that officers "are trained and they're re-trained in use-of-force situations. One problem we see is officers who react in ways that are inconsistent with their training. I did not see that in this video."
"In this situation, inaction by the officer, I believe, would likely have resulted in serious bodily injury or death to one or more persons," Scanlon said.