Shoot center mass: Why did Nicholas Reardon use shoot-to-kill tactic to stop Ma'Khia Bryant from stabbing girl?

A quick explainer on why cops encountering a violent situation usually use deadly force rather than just trying to wound an armed suspect


                            Shoot center mass: Why did Nicholas Reardon use shoot-to-kill tactic to stop Ma'Khia Bryant from stabbing girl?
Nicholas Reardon shot Ma'Khia Bryant four times (Twitter and GoFundMe)

COLUMBUS, OHIO: The shooting of Ma'Khia Bryant has sent shockwaves across the country. The 16-year-old was shot four times by officer Nicholas Reardon just minutes before the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict was announced. The violent death has been the cause of much furor on social media as people expressed their anger and confusion over the death.  

The anger is understandable. But confusion? One of the main points that people discussed on social media right after the incident grabbed headlines was why Bryant was shot fatally. Why did Reardon have to shoot her four times in the chest instead of simply wounding her to deter her from stabbing the other girl? Or why did he not use a stun gun to taze her? 

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Woman writes in chalk during a vigil in honor of Ma'Khia on April 21, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio (Getty Images)

Police defend the shooting

At a press conference on Wednesday, April 21, Columbus Police Department’s interim police chief Michael Woods also received similar queries. During this briefing, he defended the shooting of the teenager by the cop stating that state law allows police to use deadly force to protect themselves or others.

"One of the difficult things with that is we don’t train to shoot the leg because that’s a small target. We train to shoot center mass to what is available to stop that threat," Chief Woods reportedly said on April 22.

"There was a threat going on, a deadly force threat that was going on, so the officer was trained to shoot center mass - the largest part of a body that is available to them."

"If there’s not deadly force being perpetrated on someone else at that time, an officer may have the opportunity to have cover, distance and time to use a Taser," Woods reportedly said. "But if those things aren’t present, and there is an active assault going on in which someone could lose their life, the officer can use their firearm to protect that third person."

Nicholas Reardon who shot Ma'Khia Bryant stood by her body after shooting her (Tay Jones/ Facebook)

Is the use of force necessary?

Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief, told ABC News that officers are apparently trained not to use "less deadly force" on individuals using deadly force themselves.

Woods said, "When you try and start shooting legs or arms, rounds miss and they continue on and there are people behind that who could be in danger that are not committing anything, so we try to minimize danger to anyone else if we have to use our firearm."

Officers aren't trained to shoot and kill, Scott said, but to "neutralize the threat," which is why they focus on center mass. Shooting an armed suspect in the leg doesn't happen in real life as Scott says it is more "Hollywood stuff". 

Ma'Khia Bryant (GoFundMe)

Why not try to disarm or shoot just once?

Scott reportedly told ABC that trying to disarm an armed suspect without deadly force comes with its own set of consequences. Someone with a knife could easily slash an officer. He explains that in cases of unarmed people, officers can choose to use pepper spray or batons.

When asked why Bryant was shot four times, Scott explained, "If that officer had to shoot her another time because the threat was still prevalent, he would have been justified based on the law and I imagine on his policy."

Criticism persist

Apart from questions from social media users, even representatives are questioning the use of force. 

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) on Friday’s broadcast of CNN’s 'OutFront,' stated "it’s appalling" that police officers are trained to always shoot for the "center of the body." Beatty said, "I think that it’s appalling that we can have someone say, our system is to train officers to go to the center of the body no matter what. So, if Ma’Khia Bryant had a water gun, if she had a sandwich, if she had keys, if she had a cell phone, and it looks like she was going to hit or harm someone, the answer is four bullets, six bullets in the back, in the chest? That’s not acceptable.”

Beatty added, "....When I hear the police say that they are trained to go to the center of the body and to shoot, here is a situation where the police had been called. They knew they were coming into a situation with girls, a teenager and two women. We should have been in de-escalation mode." She added that there was no reason for the officer to shoot Bryant 10 seconds after getting out of the cop car that pulled up.

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