The 16-year-old girl had a turbulent life in Ohio’s foster care system and was swinging a knife at a woman when a police officer fatally shot her last year.
A grand jury has voted to bring no charges against the white police officer who shot and killed Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, as she swung a knife at a woman during a raucous dispute last year in the front yard of her foster home in Ohio.
The decision not to charge the officer, Nicholas Reardon, was announced on Friday by prosecutors. It brings a close to a case that led to protests in Columbus, Ohio, and scrutiny of the foster care system that had shuffled Ma’Khia between at least five homes in two years.
The shooting attracted national attention in part because Mr. Reardon shot Ma’Khia just 15 minutes before Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck as he struggled to breathe, was convicted of murder. When police officers, in the moments after the shooting, told Ma’Khia’s younger sister, Ja’Niah Bryant, to go back into the foster home she had shared with her sister, the verdict was the first thing she saw on a television.
Body camera video of the shooting showed that Ma’Khia had been swinging a steak knife at a 22-year-old woman outside the house when Mr. Reardon fired four shots, killing Ma’Khia.
Investigators working for the Ohio attorney general investigated the case and gave their findings to the local prosecutor’s office in Franklin County, Ohio, in July. Citing conflicts, the district attorney hired two special prosecutors, who said in a statement on Friday that grand jurors had voted against any indictment.
It was unclear what options the grand jurors had been presented with; the special prosecutors said in their statement that police officers were justified to use deadly force when the officer or another person was in imminent threat of serious harm.
Ma’Khia’s family was disappointed by the grand jurors’ decision, said Michelle Martin, a lawyer for her relatives. She said family members believed that the officer did not have to use his gun. They have previously said they wished he had tried to stun Ma’Khia with a Taser or pull her away from the other person involved.
They have also blamed the Ohio child-welfare system for taking the girl away from her family.
“We believe that the tragedy that ultimately resulted in Ma’Khia’s death started long before she was shot and killed by a Columbus police officer,” Ms. Martin said. “There must be full-scale changes made to Ohio’s foster care system to ensure that this doesn’t happen to another child.”
Jeff Simpson, the president of the union that represents Columbus police officers, said he sat with Officer Reardon and his family for four hours on Friday as they awaited the grand jury’s decision. He said the officer was relieved by the outcome but still grappling with having killed a teenage girl in what he has said was an attempt to save the life of the other young woman.
“He wishes he never would’ve been put in that position,” Mr. Simpson said.
Officer Reardon, who has been on desk duty since the shooting, hopes to return to patrolling now that the case is complete, he said.
The encounter began on April 20, 2021, when the sisters were at home after school with Tionna Bonner, the 22-year-old woman, who had previously lived there. Ja’Niah told The New York Times last spring that Ms. Bonner was berating them for not being clean enough and for disrespecting their foster mother.
As things escalated, Ja’Niah called her grandmother Jeanene Hammonds for help. Ms. Hammonds had taken care of the children after they were taken away from their mother over claims of abuse and neglect, but she said she lost custody when her landlord kicked her out of her home and she had nowhere permanent to live.
In interviews last year, Ms. Hammonds described arriving at the foster home and trying to keep her grandchildren separated from the former resident and another former foster child who had also arrived and joined the fray. Ms. Hammonds said she urged her grandchildren to pack up their belongings and had planned to take them to her house.
But as the shouting continued, Ja’Niah and her grandmother said, Ma’Khia grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen. Ms. Bonner grabbed a pink knife from her car, according to an investigative report released on Friday, confirming the family’s claim that she also had a knife during the dispute. Ms. Bonner told the investigators that she had put the knife back into her car before the police arrived, and that she believed that Mr. Reardon had saved a life by shooting Ma’Khia.
Inside the house, Ja’Niah called 911 asking for help, saying that “grown girls” were “trying to stab us” and had tried to hurt the grandmother.
New videos released by the Ohio attorney general on Friday show Ms. Hammonds and Ja’Niah leaving the house with a trash bag of belongings. A stamp on the video indicates that it took place at 4:35 p.m., moments before the shooting.
“Ain’t nobody going to jump you,” Ms. Hammonds said in the video that was captured by a doorbell surveillance camera. “Trust me, let’s go.”