Ohio Supreme Court asks for name of officer who killed Ta’Kiya Young

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Blendon Township police have been ordered by the Ohio Supreme Court to reveal the names of two officers involved in the shooting death of Ta’Kiya Young and her unborn child – but only to the justices themselves.

In a partial win for Young’s family, the high court on April 10 ordered the department to identify, under court seal, the officers who responded to the Blendon Township Kroger in August 2023, including the officer who fatally shot 21-year-old Young as she slowly drove her car toward him. Except for the justices, no one will be able to see the records – but a public records law expert and the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center both see the order as a sign the justices are seriously considering whether recently enacted victims’ rights legislation applies to officers who use deadly force.

One of two responding officers shot Young through the front windshield of a car, after Kroger employees told them Young and several others had stolen alcohol. Young, who was pregnant, died several hours later.

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The police department has declined to identify the two officers who approached Young’s car that evening, citing victims’ rights legislation called Marsy’s Law that allows victims of violent crime to request anonymity in documents otherwise considered public record. The department considered both officers victims because Young hit the shooting officer with her car and the other had his hand in her window when she began driving.

A spokesperson for Blendon Township police did not respond to a request for comment.

In December, the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center filed a complaint on behalf of Young’s family, asking the Ohio Supreme Court to compel the department to reveal the officers’ identities and release unredacted body camera footage. The center argued that Young was the victim, not the officers, because the state constitution excludes from the definition of “victim” any person who the court would find didn’t act in the best interest of the deceased.

The officers violated Blendon Township’s policy regarding suspects in moving vehicles, the center’s complaint argued, considering they should not have used deadly force to stop Young’s vehicle unless she directed another means of deadly force toward them or others.

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In 2017, voters passed a constitutional amendment establishing certain rights of crime victims, known as Marsy’s Law. Last April, lawmakers passed a law codifying the constitutional rights and automatically opting victims of violent crime into certain rights until they speak to a prosecutor. Those rights include notifications of court dates but also the ability to redact their name, address and other identifying information from public records related to the case.

Law enforcement agencies across the state have since cited Marsy’s Law as a reason to withhold the names of officers who use deadly force. But Elizabeth Well, legal director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, said that interpretation flies in the face of what voters intended.

“People were not imagining that it would be used in the way that Blendon Township is using it,” Well said. “In fact, we’re confident that when voters passed that constitutional amendment, they would have thought of someone like Ta’Kiya Young the victim, and the officers who were involved in her death as the accused or potential defendants.”

Well said she expected the court’s ruling, which now means both parties will submit full briefs and present oral arguments to the court. But it’s encouraging to her that the court didn’t throw out the case entirely.

Susan Gilles, professor emeritus at Capital University Law School and expert in media law and public records law, said while it’s too early to tell how the Ohio Supreme Court may rule, their order to view the records – accompanied with a rather fast briefing schedule – suggests they’re at least “uncomfortable” with the idea of withholding the officers’ names from Young’s family.

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Gilles also harkened to the original intent of Marsy’s Law, which has been passed in multiple states. The law is named for Marsy Nicholas, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Her family ran into the ex-boyfriend at the grocery store, having not been notified by prosecutors that he was released on bail.

The law gives crime victims the right to notification about case updates, input into plea agreements and otherwise gives them agency in their criminal cases. It was meant to give citizens rights to enforce against the government, Gilles said.

“The statute was meant to protect private individuals’ access to what the government was doing in prosecuting the case,” Gilles said. “There’s just not a need there for the police officers – they’re in the government.”

A spokesperson for the Montgomery County prosecutor, who will determine whether to bring criminal charges against the officer who shot Young, said that his office hopes to have results from the grand jury investigation by the summer.

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