Ma’Khia Bryant and deadly force: police training, and what happens when an officer does nothing

Ma’Khia Bryant Shooting

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The shooting death of Ma’Khia Bryant on Tuesday by a Columbus Division of Police officer has raised questions about the use of deadly force.

City Council President Shannon G. Hardin called for a change in police officer’s training, so that guns are not the “final answer to every threat.”

James Scanlan, a retired Columbus Division of Police officer of 33 years, 19 of that on the SWAT team, trains police officers. He’s a subject-matter expert in court cases on use of deadly force. While officers carry less lethal methods such as tasers, mace, and batons, training tells them to use lethal methods when time and distance allows, he explained.

“[This was] what we call a lethal situation,” Scanlan said. “It’s not the time to say, ‘Let’s try mace’ or ‘Let’s try a taser’ — no police officer is trained in that to do that. They are trained to stop the threat in a life-and-death situation, whether the threat be against them or against another person. It was certainly not an option to do anything less lethal.

“The officer could have done nothing, and I’m not sure who would have been upset by that today, except for the women who would have been stabbed or maybe killed, and maybe their family.”

Scanlan gives evidence in court cases. He pointed out the legal standards are set by the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court. Those laws say an officer is justified in using deadly force to save themselves or another person. And the test isn’t the reasonable man in the street. It’s the police officer’s peers.

“That use of force has to be reasonable, not to everybody, but to another police officer who has been in those situations before,” Scanlan explained. “And what they recognize is that these situations are so chaotic and quickly evolving…We can’t just take a time out… and see if I can do this or whatever, because by the time you do that, someone is dead.”

More officers are beginning to hesitate, and we are going to see loss of life as a result, Scanlan believes. But if an officer stands by and lets a situation play, out there isn’t any real penalty for that.

“I think you’re seeing more officers being shot now because they hesitate,” he said. “I think you’re probably going to see more civilians shot by other people because officers hesitate. I think it’s being drilled into them, you should hesitate.

“So not only will they avoid these kinds of situations, they’ll try not to get there first. That doesn’t serve the public well, in my opinion. I think the officers are morally obligated to step in and if they can’t act the way this officer acted yesterday. they should leave the job because they are putting people at risk.”

Do officers shoot to kill? Or to injure?: “No, neither one,” Scanlan said. “You are legally allowed to shoot to stop that action that is causing the threat of death to another person. You shoot to stop that action, to neutralize that action. Once that action has stopped you stop shooting. But you don’t wing them, you don’t shoot them in the finger — that’s television stuff. That is not the law.”

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