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Columbus Officials Hold Briefing on Police Shooting Death of Teenager. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 21, 2021 - 14:30   ET



MICHAEL WOODS, INTERIM CHIEF, COLUMBUS, OHIO, POLICE DEPARTMENT: Again, those are witnesses, so they were referred to BCI. So BCI would have that information. Again, that's part of their investigation.

We don't come in -- we did separate the witnesses. You saw that, with the officer placing individuals in the back seats of cruisers. That was the extent of our involvement right then.

We wanted to separate the witnesses, keep them available for BCI. But we do not interview them. We don't ask them what they saw before they got there or when it was there. That's an entirely exclusive BCI process.

UNKNOWN: Chief, a couple questions for you and one for the mayor, if I may.

This question has to do with policy more than the investigation. One question specifically that has gone viral on social media is, to what degree should an officer opt to use a taser rather than his service weapon.

Again, I'm asking you to respond to that based on policy, not specific to this investigation?

WOODS: Yes, because I cannot respond specifically to this specific incident.

But what I can say is, when officers are faced with someone employing deadly force, deadly force can be the response the officer gives.

UNKNOWN: And at what point does the officer, in a hypothetical scenario, do you use the taser versus a service weapon?

WOODS: Again, 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.

But if those things aren't present and there's an active assault going on in which someone could lose their life, the officer can use their firearm to protect that third person.

UNKNOWN: Mr. Mayor, it's very rare for a police agency in this country to release body camera footage as fast as this department did.

You pretty quickly after the shooting sent out a couple tweets saying, there's camera video, indicating you wanted it released.

Did you face an uphill battle with anyone in pushing for that to try to get it released last night?

MAYOR ANDREW GINTHER (D-COLUMBUS, OHIO): No. I think we all knew, as a city in this community, that there were a lot of things being said and shared out in the community that may or may not having consistent with what we have seen with our own eyes here.

I think, critically, during a time of crisis, it's very important to be as transparent and responsive as possible. So we worked closely with the director and the chief to make sure and their teams -- to make sure we got this footage out.

Now you have everybody that we have that's been processed. We will be sharing more in the hours, days, weeks ahead, that doesn't compromise the investigation.

Because it's critically important for us for the public to have the information that we have, so we can be transparent as possible.

UNKNOWN: Mayor, to follow up on that, whose call was it to release all that information? Why was it done? Was it done to -- (INAUDIBLE) -- and did it -- (INAUDIBLE)?

GINTHER: It was done because the public deserves to know what happens. They needed to have this footage.

The reason I made body-worn cameras my top priority when I was running and we invested so much during my first term is to have this information, to have this transparency, to have this power given to the community.

So it's no longer about an officer's word versus a resident's word or different neighbors' takes on something. But we have this footage. We know having this footage increases accountability on both sides of the camera.

This is also why we are upgrading our body-worn system this year in partnership with council to make sure we have the next-generation and the best available technology and footage to share with the public as these things take shape.

UNKNOWN: Mayor --

GINTHER: Yes, sir?


GINTHER: I believe it will be something we have to evaluate. My goal is to have as much information shared as quickly as possible.

As you know, our top priority last year was entering into by executive order and MOU.

And that's the first time ever the city has had independent investigations take place with police-involved shootings that the BCI is handling in this case, as well as the case involving Andre Hill from December.

That was the top priority and something that we believe is important that folks know there's an independent investigation taking place when there are police-involved shootings and deaths, and deaths in custody.


It's something that I think we'll strive for and make a priority. Again, because we believe transparency is most important during times like these.

UNKNOWN: You talked about the need for reflection and everyone's responsibility for a tragedy like this.

Regardless of whether the -- finds this officer within protocol, are you calling for change to try to prevent another shooting like this?

GINTHER: Absolutely. The fact we had a 16-year-old girl armed and involved with physical violence with other folks in that community, that's something for us to look in the mirror and say what are we doing or not doing?

How can we better serve young people who are facing one of the greatest spikes of violence in this city and in cities across America? What else can we be doing?

We're undertaking significant reform efforts and seating our first- ever civilian review board. We're looking at our training and how we're recruiting and the types of officers we're putting on the streets and what we're equipping them with.

All in response to the matrix report and the Community Safety Advisory Commission recommendations.

This will be a top prior for this city moving forward, as we continue with change and reform.

We'll be hiring the first external chief of police in the city's history in the coming months.

We think that, with other steps, will help us deal with what the community is calling for.

UNKNOWN: Chief, you described how your policy allows an officer to discharge their firearm to prevent deadly harm.

What do you train your officers about how many times they can discharge their weapon before topping and reevaluating?

WOODS: Firearms training is you fire until the threat is over. There were shots fired. But I can't assess what the officer is thinking. That would be through his statement. But training is, you fire to stop the threat.

UNKNOWN: Chief, can I ask you about the gentleman who also seen in the video, seen kicking the girl who was on the ground? Is cp investigating that separately as a possible assault?

WOODS: We'll have to look at that. But, first, before we can talk to that person or any other individual to look at any crime that may have been committed during this, BCI has to have that first opportunity to talk to everyone there.

Once they give us information that those interviews have been completed and that it's OK, then we'll step in and see if there's additional individuals that need charges filed.


UNKNOWN: Mayor, can I follow up on your previous statement?

What do you think could have been done differently to prevent what happened last night?

GINTHER: Well, obviously, we'll know more once we have the independent investigation completed and the result back from that, which will be an exhaustive process that we have a great deal of confidence in. And the people have confidence that it will be an independent investigation.

Certainly, what I was speaking to is this larger spike in violence that you and I have talked about a number of times over the past year, year and a half, and what we need to be doing as a community to prevent the type of violence before any officer arrived on the scene that was taking place in one of our neighborhoods.

It's going to require all of us to step up and do more to invest in our young people and make sure that they have positive program programmatic pathways.

There's a lot of people who feel hopeless. They feel like they don't count, they don't matter, and there's no impact on their future.

And they continue to see their friends shot and killed day after day, week after week, month after month. There's a hopelessness among people.

That's something collectively, as a committee, we'll have to address.

UNKNOWN: Mayor, You talked about this. But -- INAUDIBLE) -- also said this morning that guns cannot be the final answer for threats like this.

What specifically did you see on that tape that makes you think this may not have been appropriate or, in the alternative, that the officer did act appropriately given the circumstances that we see on the body cam?

GINTHER: Obviously, the investigation will respond to that and will answer that on the criminal side and the policy side for the Division of Police.

I haven't seen the council president's statements, so I'm not going to react to that.

But I do believe a lot of other reforms and efforts were involved with, including the alternative crisis response and other things that we're investing in, will help.

I don't know if any of those things would have, you know, had a different outcome based on what we have seen in this footage. We won't know completely until that independent investigation is finished.


UNKNOWN: Chief, one of the big questions that's been asked primarily on social media -- it may seem like a silly question, shouldn't people already know.

But this is a legitimate question that people are asking -- is: Can an officer shoot a leg? Can they shoot somewhere that would not result in a fatal wound?

A lot of people say, couldn't she have shot her in the leg so she dropped it or shot her in the arm or something like that?

WOODS: You know --


WOODS: -- one of the difficult things with that is, when you're trying -- we don't train to shoot the leg, because that's a small target. We train to shoot center mass, what is available to stop that threat.

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

When you try to start shooting legs or arms, rounds miss. They continue on. And there's people behind that that could be in danger that are not committing anything.

We try to minimize any danger to anyone else if we have to use our firearm.

UNKNOWN: Chief, is a 12-minute response time acceptable?

WOODS: It was not written up as an attempted stabbing. We received the information as a disturbance.

As you could hear from the 911 call, it was some confusing information. The dispatchers attempted to gain more information to help them decipher what was going on.

The second call was very abbreviated. Once they saw a cruiser outside, no additional information was provided. What we try to do with our dispatcher is ask those questions, get as

much information as we possibly can so officers travel to go a scene have all that information.

In this instance, I think it was very chaotic. The phone call was very loud. There was a lot of screaming going on in the background.

So all of that information that we weren't able to get would have been beneficial.

But as far as a 12-minute response time, I also don't know what else was going on in the city at the time. We have to prioritize. We only have so many resources.

So if there were other priority calls for service going on at that time, we have to look at that, and then are cars available for that.

UNKNOWN: The first caller did refer to trying to stab us.


UNKNOWN: That's no cause for urgency?

WOODS: Again, cars were dispatched. Are cars available? I don't have that information if cars were available.

We received the call. The call was written up, but do we have cars available to respond? That's a question I just don't have the answer to right now.

UNKNOWN: Do we have proximity to the first officer -- (INAUDIBLE) -- do we know how far out he was?

WOODS: I do not.

UNKNOWN: The injured -- the two in pink and the one that goes down, the girl who -- (INAUDIBLE) -- do we know anything -- -- (INAUDIBLE)?

WOODS: I believe they are minor injuries. But I don't have the extent of those injuries though.


WOODS: I don't have that information. Again, any injury or any information they would have provided would have gone to the BCI, not to the Columbus police.

UNKNOWN: Chief, that first call came in at 4:32, is that correct?


UNKNOWN: The second call came in?

WOODS: I don't have that time. I just have the first information. We received the first call at 4:32.

UNKNOWN: And officers were dispatched at 4:35.

WOODS: Four thirty-five.

UNKNOWN: Does it typically take three minutes to dispatch an officer to a scene for such a disturbance?

WOODS: Again, a dispatcher has -- this is zone 2. So this is a large part of the southeast part of Columbus. There are four precincts on that zone.

It's an afternoon. It was a nice day. There may have been a lot of calls for service. So what cars are available? They rate those in priorities, priority 1, priority 2. This was a priority 2 call. Once a car is available, they get dispatched.

UNKNOWN: Do you know how many gunshot wounds --

WOODS: I do not. That will be a BCI question.


UNKNOWN: Does the police department policy state that the officer must declare he's about to shoot before he does shoot?

WOODS: We try, but it's not a policy requirement that you yell your intent to fire your weapon.

UNKNOWN: Is it a part of teaching that the officer is taught to --

WOODS: If there's time and opportunity, yes, we try and include that. But it is not a requirement if that time and opportunity is not there.

UNKNOWN: Do you know or has it been confirmed that the Ma'Khia Bryant lived in that community?

WOODS: I can't confirm any information about her residence or any information about here.

UNKNOWN: Do you know what this disturbance was about?

WOODS: We don't. Again, that will be obtained through those investigations from BCI. They're getting the first crack. They want to have that information. They want that information fresh.


I would like to just mention, your question about the timeliness and how quick we were ability get this this information out there.

One of the things that has to occur before we get that is that BCI wants a look at that body-worn camera footage. So we send a homicide detective to the scene with a computer that allows them to watch that.

They want to review all that body-worn camera, so that when they're doing their investigation, the scene, any evidence, they want to make sure they have collected any evidence. So they get the first opportunity.

Last night, that opportunity to view that happened quickly. Then that body-worn camera was brought into police headquarters. We uploaded it into the system. And we got that out as quick as we could, I believe about five and a half hours.

That's extremely fast. And I'm not going to say that we're going to be able to do that every time.

If there are a lot more videos to watch, BCI has to go through each one of those videos to have a good understanding of what took place, who to interview, what the crime scene looks like.

It's a time factor of making sure they have that information before any of us do.

BCI agents watched all that body-worn camera before it was ever brought to me.

UNKNOWN: Chief, what's your take in watching that video?

WOODS: It's a tragedy. There's no other way to say it. It's a 16-year- old girl. I'm a father. Her family is grieving.

Regardless of the circumstances associated with this, a 16-year-old lost her life yesterday. I sure as hell wish it hadn't happened.

Thanks, everybody.

UNKNOWN: Thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK. You've been listening to a press conference in Columbus, Ohio. That was the interim police chief, Michael Woods, along with the mayor there and the public safety director.

It was just really fascinating, Victor, how quickly, as they point out, they keep using the word transparency, how quickly they have come out of after that horrible shooting of a 16-year-old girl to try to show everyone what they're dealing with.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: A 180 difference from what we saw in Minneapolis.

We've talked about the press release after the death of George Floyd and what we're seeing from this department, body camera footage in the first few hours.

The chief, the mayor also saying that we'll get body camera video from the witness officers as well. Later videos from the cruisers.

He words he used multiple times, "transparency" and "accountability." Now this investigation goes over to the Bureau of Criminal Investigations there in Ohio.

CAMEROTA: Let's bring in Athena Jones. She's been covering this on the ground. We have Josh Campbell, and Joe Ested. He's a former Richmond, Virginia, police officer.

So all of you have a fascinating perspective.

Athena, tell us what the mood is and what your take is on this press conference is.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, I think what is most interesting is some of the things you've pointed out, this focus by the mayor and by the interim police chief, Michael Woods, on transparency, on getting as much information out to the public as quickly as possible.

One thing we heard the chief stress is, this is all part of a larger set of police reforms that was put into place last summer, so July of 2020.

We talked about a memorandum of understanding. That is why we now see incidents like this being investigated, first and foremost, by what's called the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. That is a part of the Ohio attorney general's office.

He said several times, in explaining the process over the last less than 24 hours now, that BCI, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, gets first attempt at all of this to talk to witnesses, to gather evidence.

So even when it comes to the body camera footage that was released yesterday, the first camera footage was from the first officer to arrive on the scenes.

Chief Woods said that was released after about five and a half hours, and it was released after BCI was able to view the footage.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation handles this independently from the police. They look into issues like this.

And this is all part of an attempt to reform police practices here in the city of Columbus.

We also heard from the head of the Department of Public Safety talking about how, you know -- obviously, each one of these men talking about how this is a tragedy.


But Chief Pettus -- Director Pettus saying they are in touch with community leaders and faith leaders, to talk about why this sort of -- they've seen a rise in violence, including among young people in and around the city of Columbus.

But I would say the most interesting thing that came out of it was this idea of "transparency."

And I want to restate again, why is this so important. In this age of social media, with camera phones, we saw video being tweeted out yesterday in the relative immediate aftermath of this shooting. Video by bystanders that did not capture the shooting in the way a

police body camera shooting would.

We also saw a small crowd begin gathering very quickly. That, of course, put pressure on the authorities to try to get this information out there.

So, yes, a focus on transparency. For the benefit of the authorities and for the benefit of the community, in part, because, you know, there's so much scrutiny on police action in these communities, in black and brown communities.

And because of the footage that was already being put out several hours before the police were able to release that initial video.

So, transparency very important here.

One other thing I'll mention is they were asked a couple of things. Was this this level of force necessary? You heard Chief Woods saying, if a subject is engaged in deadly force, then deadly force is allowed to be used against them.

Someone else asked, couldn't they have, perhaps, tried to aim for a leg or arm? Chief Woods said police are not trained to shoot a leg or arm. They're trained to shoot the largest part of the body.

A leg or arm would be a very small target. In the situation like we saw in that video, you run the risk of hurting others.

Those were two issues that came up.

And also the response time. This call came in at 4:32 p.m. We understand the police didn't arrive until 4:44. So there were several questions about what took so long. It's not clear they know how many cars were available and that sort of thing.

Clearly, an effort at transparency and an effort to show the community that we understand this is a tragedy.

BLACKWELL: Joe, let me bring that to you, the question of when to use lethal force versus nonlethal force. Because there obviously had been the questions: Did this officer have to shoot? Was that the prudent choice?

You're a former Richmond, Virginia, police officer. I want to put that to you. Expound on that for us the decision by this officer considering that this 16-year-old on the video had a knife in her hand?

JOE ESTED, FORMER RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, POLICE OFFICER: First, when the officer arrives on the scene, he has to make the scene safe. He has to identify the threat. He has to quickly assess what kind he's come upon.

Now, if you notice, she had a butcher knife in her hand. Now, when she approached the other girl, you saw her open her hand like this before the officer started to shoot.

Officers are trained, you have to match that threat and eliminate it as quickly as possible. Because if he didn't shoot and she was able to stab, that officer is now liable for not saving the girl's life.

We are in a day and age where police brutality is at the forefront. We need to really understand what police brutality -- what's justified and what's police brutality.

When you look at this incident, if this officer didn't respond the way he responded, we would be having another conversation about why this officer froze up, why he didn't respond.

His job is to preserve life. Unfortunately, the 16-year-old, she lost her life in the process.

But the officer's job is to preserve life and that's exactly what he did. He had to match that level of force to stop it.

CAMEROTA: It's so helpful to have your perspective as a former police officer explaining this to us.

But, Josh, on a bigger picture, you have been in the courtroom for the Derek Chauvin trial.

And do you think that this level of transparency in Columbus, Ohio, would be happening five and a half hours after the incident? They're already releasing the body cam.

They're saying we're opening up our files to the investigators. What you need to know, I'm happy to answer questions.

Do you think that is the upshot of what we've all lived through the past year since George Floyd's death?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's certainly a factor here, both with George Floyd and obviously the recent police killing of Daunte Wright where they came out quickly with that body cam footage.

I think it comes down to one simple fact and that is law enforcement officers require the trust of the public in order to effectively do their job.

In so many incidents when there's police use of force, we'll say authorities say X, authorities say Y.

The way to get around that potential skepticism is to actually show us the evidence, the public, show members of the community. That's what they're trying to do.

Especially in incidents where you might have disinformation out there that's spreading about what actually transpired, there's nothing that can compare to the public seeing it for themselves.

Seeing that deadly force situation at play where you have someone that, yes, it is certainly a tragedy, and obviously it remains under investigation.


We're not drawing any conclusion yet, until we get the full facts.

But when an officer arrives, as has been said, and there's a threat to someone else, every law enforcement deadly policy in the country has some provision that says deadly force may be employed if an officer perceives there's a threat of deadly force to an officer or another person.

It appears, from what we can see from what was released, that it meets that second factor. You have someone else whose life is potentially in danger.

One other thing I want to point out because this is something we've seen in different incidents. There's a notion that perhaps a knife isn't as deadly as a firearm.

The chief there said we talk about time. We talk about proximity. All that's going to play out in this video. We'll see for ourselves how imminent that threat was.

And to answer your question, I don't know if we would have seen this so quickly if we didn't have all these incidents in recent months.

BLACKWELL: Yes. We had from the director of Public Safety: Fast facts should not come at the cost of complete and accurate facts.

Of course, the investigation continues.

Athena Jones, Josh Campbell, Joe Ested, thank you all.

Just ahead, we'll take you live to Minneapolis to speak to an attorney for the Floyd family in the wake of the historic verdict in the Chauvin trial.

Stay with us for CNN's live special coverage.