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State Investigators Send Ma'Khia Bryant Shooting To Prosecutors

Courtesy of Bryant family
Bryant family

Updated, July 8, 2021, 6:05 a.m.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the Bureau of Criminal Investigation has finished its probe of the Columbus police shooting death of Ma'Khia Bryant and sent the case to prosecutors for consideration.

A Franklin County grand jury will now be reviewing the Columbus shooting death.

Yost's decision does not recommend charges or make any particular call to action.

"BCI investigations into officer-involved critical incidents seek the facts and circumstances of each incident and do not include any determinations of fault. The legality of the actions involved will be determined by the prosecutor and/or grand jury," a press release from Yost's office said.

Bryant, 16, who was Black, was killed by white officer Nicholas Reardon April 20 seconds after he arrived on the scene of a disturbance call at a southeast Columbus foster home where Bryant lived. Reardon shot Bryant as she lunged at a woman with a knife.

Some of Bryant's neighbors and activists have said Reardon fired too quickly after arriving on the scene, while others have said Reardon was forced to act quickly.

The family of Bryant is arguing the state investigation turned over to local prosecutors Wednesday may not give a complete account of what led to the girl’s death at the hands of a Columbus police officer.

In front of Columbus City Hall, Bryant’s grandmother Jeanene Hammonds expressed frustration with the investigation process.

“Because I was there at the incident, I know what happened the night before, I know what happened on the evening of this incident,” Hammonds explains. “And that’s what I was going to discuss with them before a videotape got out making my granddaughter look like a monster—the things she had to undergo.”

Hammonds claims she was detained after the shooting, but it took nearly a month for state investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to contact her. Under an agreement between the state and the city of Columbus, BCI handles police involved shootings to ensure the investigations is impartial.

Hammonds said she is “outraged” at how long it took them to get in touch. According to the letter Hammonds received, they had the wrong number. She said she has reached out to the prosecutor’s office, but has refused to talk with state investigators.

Without her input she argues the investigation isn’t complete, and she’s urging prosecutors to keep investigating.

“It was not thorough enough for me because they did not interview me that night, and it was nearly a month after the incident that they sent me a letter stating that you know we want to interview you now. So why did you detain me and tell me I’d be charged with a felony and then not interview me?”

Franklin County prosecutor Gary Tyack won’t be handling the Bryant case because of a potential conflict of interest. Bryant was living in a foster home at the time, and Tyack’s office is legal counsel for Franklin County Child Services. Tyack has tapped H. Tim Merkle and Gary Shroyer to serve as special prosecutors for the case.

BCI was called to investigate both cases. Besides listing the amount of items analyzed in the lab and the number of witnesses interviewed, the attorney general's office does not provide too much detail into the investigations.

Yost says that's because the investigation is ongoing and it could hurt the integrity of a potential jury pool. However, Yost says it is important to also be transparent about the next steps in the process.

"We, in fact, are on top of this. We are diligent and complete, but we don't want to compromise the integrity of the work or the legal process by speaking about details that are not within our purview to discuss," Yost says.

Yost's press release says the BCI investigation included:

  • Processing the crime scene for potential evidence, including photographing, searching, measuring, documenting and collecting evidence.
  • Interviewing 15 civilian witnesses and three law enforcement officers.
  • Reviewing all available camera footage of the incident, including from body cameras, dash cameras and surveillance video that captured any portion of the incident.
  • Processing the involved vehicle(s) for potential evidence.
  • Reviewing audio communications, 911/phone communications and dispatch/CAD records pertaining to the incident.
  • Analyzing available cellphone and telephone records.
  • Analyzing in the laboratory seven items, including firearms, bullet casings and projectiles

In addition, Yost asked Franklin County prosecutors to consider charges related to the March 8 shooting death of Andrew Teague. Teague, a 43-year-old Black man, was killed during a confrontation with Columbus police officer John Kifer and Franklin County sheriff's deputy Michael Severance following a chase on Interstate 270 in which Teague drove the wrong way on the freeway.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.