The shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, in Columbus, Ohio has sparked protests despite the police releasing a videotape that appeared to show Bryant moving to stab another girl.  The incident has strikingly similar legal issues to the shooting of Adam Toledo in Chicago.  The parents of Bryant insist that she dropped the knife just before being shot, the same situation raised in the Toledo shooting.  The videotape does appear to satisfy the standard for the use of lethal force under Tennessee v. Garner and other case law.

Police told local media that, at  4:32 p.m., officers were dispatched to the address after a caller reported that a female was trying to stab other individuals.  The videotape shows Bryant moving toward the other female with the knife before being shot by the officer.

Here is video with the The body cam footage around 6:35.


The knife if shown laying next to Bryant.

The site Heavy reports that Franklin County Children Services confirmed that Bryant was a foster child. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Dispatch that her niece “got into an altercation with someone else at the home” but that Bryant dropped her knife before being shot by a Columbus police officer.

On its face, the videotape would offer strong support for a justified shooting claim.

The Columbus Police manual states “Sworn personnel may use deadly force when the involved personnel have reason to believe the response is objectively reasonable to protect themselves or others from the imminent threat of death or serious physical harm.” That language is derived from Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), when the court addressed the Fourth Amendment protections afforded a fleeing suspect and held that an officer may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”

Tennessee v. Garner addressed a fleeing unarmed suspects and found the state statute too broad:

The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead. The Tennessee statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use of deadly force against such fleeing suspects.

In Graham v. Connor, the court held that the question of whether an officer used excessive force “requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” However, the Court ruled unanimously that the “reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.” (The ABA discussed these and other cases in a recent posting).

In this case, Bryant was in close proximity and moving toward the other person with the knife. This was a direct threat of lethal force made against another person and the officer can claim that there was little time or space for “de-escalation” efforts.  The shooting is likely to be found to be justified under the governing standards for the use of lethal force.