UPDATED: Video Legal Analysis: Two Recent Police Shootings of Knife-wielding Aggressors

Welcome to today’s Law of Self Defense content! I am, of course, Attorney Andrew Branca, for Law of Self Defense.

Today I’d like to share with you some legal analysis of videos of two recent police shootings of knife-wielding aggressors—the shooting this past Tuesday of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Ohio, and the shooting last March 11 of 32-year-old Tyrell Wilson in California.

In both cases the victim of the shooting was black and the police officer who shot them was white, so of course both cases have been instantly politicized and racialized by the racial-grievance industrial complex and the mainstream and social media (but I repeat myself).

In fact, both shooting were obviously lawful on their face, for use-of-force and tactical reasons I’ll address in just a moment, when I share the body cam videos of both events with you.

Before I dive into the substance of today’s content, however, I know that many thousands of you are new to the Law of Self Defense community, having become aware of us during our open-access coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial, and I wanted to take a moment to remind everybody that with the completion of that Chauvin trial coverage Law of Self Defense will be returning to its normal Members-only access for our near-daily content.

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Ok, with that out of the way, let’s dive into these police shootings of Bryant and Wilson, respectively.

The legal criteria for a use of deadly defensive force are relatively straightforward.  I know that may be surprising, because often it seems difficult to determine whether a particular use-of-force was lawful or not.

That apparent complexity tends to come from one or both of two sources.

First, it could simply be a reflection of the complexity of real-world use-of-force events.  The underlying legal principles are pretty straight-forward, but real-world use-of-force events often create complex and ambiguous fact patterns. That can make the application of even simple legal principles difficult.

Second, most of what most people know about these use-force events is delivered to them by the mainstream media, social media, and/or activists and propagandists within the racial grievance industrial complex.  These forces, through a combination of ignorance and malice, often smear apparent complexity and disinformation all over use-of-force events that are, really, pretty straightforward.

In the case of the shootings of Bryant and Wilson, it is the second of these two drivers of faux complexity that create purported uncertainty about the justification of the use of deadly defensive force in each instance.

In truth, the facts in both cases are straightforward enough that they allow ready application of the simple legal principles that govern the use of deadly defensive force.

Given how many of you are new to the Law of Self Defense community, you may be wondering what these purportedly simple legal principles are that govern whether one can lawfully use force likely to cause someone else their life.

Don’t worry, I don’t keep them secret, so here they are, the Five Elements of any claim of defense of self or others:

  • Innocence
  • Imminence
  • Proportionality
  • Avoidance
  • Reasonableness

When these elements are satisfied, we have a lawful use of defensive force. If not, then that use of defensive force was simply not lawful.

That’s it. Those are the five elements the define the scope of legal principles for the use of deadly defensive force.  Note that there aren’t 500 of these you need to know. There aren’t even 50.  There are only five—and often not even that many, if one more of those elements is legally waived for some reason (for example, the element of “Avoidance” is typically waived in the 38 or so “stand-your-ground” states in cases of otherwise lawful self-defense.)

I won’t dive into how each of those legal elements applies to the facts of each of these cases in great depth, first because each case is simple enough to not require in-depth analysis, and second, we need to keep the scope of these daily content deliveries reasonable.

Generally speaking, however, the legal question for any use of deadly defensive use is this:

Was the deadly defensive force used in defense of an innocent person from a reasonably perceived imminent threat of unlawful deadly force harm?

Had either of the shootings we’re discussing occurred in one of the minority of 12 or so “duty-to-retreat” states we would also need to ask “and did the defender comply with any legal duty to retreat?”

As it happens, however, both the Wilson shooting in California and the Bryant shooting in Ohio occurred in “stand-your-ground” states—California being a “stand-your-ground” jurisdiction since the 1800s, and, conversely, Ohio being a “stand-your-ground” jurisdiction for a mere two weeks prior to the shooting of Bryant.

So, that’s the question:  Was the deadly defensive force used in defense of an innocent person from a reasonably perceived imminent threat of unlawful deadly force harm?

It’s worth noting, too, that the “innocent person” being defended can be either the defender himself (as was the case in the Wilson shooting) or an innocent third person (as was the case in the Bryant shooting)—the legal analysis remains exactly the same.

So, let’s consider the Bryant shooting this past Tuesday in Ohio first. Here’s the video of that event:

Was the officer’s use of deadly force used in defense of an innocent person from a reasonably perceived imminent threat of unlawful deadly force harm?

Clearly, the answer is yes.  Bryant was about to thrust a knife into the unarmed black woman wearing pink and holding a puppy, who was pinned against the vehicle behind her.  Bryant was clearly the physical aggressor in that moment (Innocence), the knife thrust was in progress (Imminence), a knife used in this manner is readily capable of death or serious bodily injury (so qualifies as “deadly force” for purposes of Proportionality), and the officer’s perception of events was reasonable (he was not merely speculating the presence of Bryant’s knife, satisfying the element of Reasonableness).

Bottom line: a perfectly lawful use of deadly defensive force in defense of others, period, and for those specific legal reasons on the facts of this case.

The purported complexity the media and racial grievance industrial complex activists are attempting to claim to muddy these clear waters consists largely in pointing to facts that are irrelevant to a use of force analysis, or arguments or views that are purely political in nature.

It is entirely irrelevant, for example, that Bryant was a mere 16 years old.  An aggressor being a minor does not require potential defenders to allow the aggressor in the moment to stab and kill their intended victim.

It is entirely irrelevant that other parties may have been the physical aggressors earlier in the confrontation.  All that matters to this officer’s use of deadly force was the situation as presented to his reasonable perception in the moment.  The fact that perhaps the woman in pink had “started the fight” at some prior time does not require potential defenders to allow the aggressor in the moment to stab and kill their intended victim.

It is irrelevant that the officer fired four shots in rapid succession, as any defender is privileged to continue to use force in otherwise lawful self-defense for as long as apparently necessary to neutralize the threat.  Had the officer continued shooting Bryant after she was obviously no longer a threat, that would be a problem—but that did not occur.

It is irrelevant that people with zero tactical training or experience might have preferred the officer to shoot Bryant in the leg, or to shoot the knife out of her hand, or any other similar nonsense.  No officer in the nation is taught to use deadly defensive force in such a manner in these circumstances, so all those suggestions are little more than a form of poorly performed tactical masturbation by the ignorant or the politically/racially malicious.

Also irrelevant to this use of force analysis are any other uses of force by any other officers in any other circumstances, concerns however legitimate about social justice or systemic racism, or anything else not already covered in our analysis.  Again, these are criticisms leveled only by the ignorant or politically/racially malicious.

Now, what about the shooting last month of Tyrell Wilson by a police officer in California. Here’s the video of that event:

The question for purposes of legal analysis remains precisely the same:

Was the deadly defensive force used in defense of an innocent person from a reasonably perceived imminent threat of unlawful deadly force harm?

Clearly, the answer is, again, yes.  Wilson was the unlawful physical aggressor in the confrontation with his production of the knife (Innocence), Wilson was sufficiently close to the officer and also advancing on him such that the threat was immediate (Imminence), the knife again constitutes a threat of deadly force (Proportionality), and the officer’s perception of the knife and the threat presented was reasonable (Reasonableness).

Bottom line: a perfectly lawful use of deadly defensive force in defense of others, period, and for those specific legal reasons on the facts of this case.

Irrelevant facts being brought up here include that Wilson apparently suffered from mental illness.  Being mentally ill, folks, does not grant any special privilege to threaten others with imminent deadly force, nor to deny those others their usual rights of self-defense.  Getting stabbed by a lunatic is just as dangerous as getting stabbed by a non-lunatic—indeed, it’s arguably worse.

So, there we have it, folks—the shootings of both Bryant and Wilson, on the facts of each case, were in complete compliance with the law of self-defense, period.

And now you not only know that’s the case, but perhaps more important, you know exactly why that’s the case, based on the actual law of self-defense.


For more insight on why a police officer might promptly use deadly defensive force to stop a knife-armed aggressor advancing on him, I’ve updated this post above with a video of a knife attack on a Miami-Dade police officer a few years ago:

As an aside, folks, it’s worth keeping in mind when considering such cases, that the person who is ultimately in charge of how much force an officer is compelled to use upon a violently non-compliant suspect is not the officer.

It’s the suspect.

Before I let you go, a last reminder—if you like this kind of content and analysis, and would like to have continued access, we are returning to locking down our content for Law of Self Defense Members only, starting right after this last bit of open-access content.  If you’d rather have access than not, I encourage you to at least sign up for our no-risk, two-week, 200% money back Law of Self Defense Trial Membership TODAY!

Until next time:


You carry a gun so you’re hard to kill.

Know the law so you’re hard to convict.

Stay safe!


Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC

Law of Self Defense Platinum Protection Program

IMPORTANT:  We encourage civil and reasoned debate among Members in the comments.  That said, comments reflect the opinion (legal or otherwise) of those who authored them only, and no comment should be assumed to reflect the opinion of, or be assumed to be shared by, Attorney Andrew F. Branca, except those authored by Attorney Branca.  Law of Self Defense LLC does not systemically moderate comments for legal correctness, and we suggest that all comments be viewed with an appropriately critical eye and a grain of salt.

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34 thoughts on “UPDATED: Video Legal Analysis: Two Recent Police Shootings of Knife-wielding Aggressors”

  1. Could the adult male in the situation be charged with felony murder here? It looks like he was an active participation in the fight, kicking the girl on the ground.

  2. The Columbus police officer will likely be charged, and even if he isn’t I’m guessing he’ll need to find a new line of work. The California officer, probably won’t be charged but a new career is probably on deck for him as well.

    I believe we’re coming to a new paradigm where police will begin to really back off law enforcement in black areas and with black suspects in general. Minneapolis, for starters, will make Detroit look like Singapore by this time next year. Columbus may not be that far behind. Note that LeBron James can call out the Columbus officer and essentially ask for retribution on him and there is absolutely no pushback from any persons in positions of authority for that. The most interesting part of all of this is that when policing stops in black neighborhoods it’s going to be mostly blacks – and disproportionally poor blacks – who pay the price. And the same people who are calling for defunding the police will be screaming that cops are racist because they won’t enforce the law.

    1. The law abiding black citizens of America are not calling for defunding the police, they actually want more police protection. There are a few blacks, either idiots or criminals, that are calling for defunding the police, there are some politicians, being both criminals and idiots, that are calling for defunding the police, and the media, being idiots and criminals, are giving them both a stage and making it seem as though the majority of blacks want to eliminate the police departments, but such is not the case.

        1. Keep in mind there’s a “vocal” minority that’s getting a lot of attention (and by “vocal”, I mean a literal “we’re going to burn your house down if we disagree, or if we just want the stuff from your business” vocal), along with a supportive Media that amplifies these “vocal” minorities, ignores the “burn your house down” aspect of their voices, and then actively ignores the remainder who are speaking up against this.

          I have seen a lot of videos of minorities denouncing BLM, yelling “this isn’t us” as a white “protester” is spray painting “BLM” on black businesses, and angry that black BLM protesters pulled guns on black business owners and employees trying to clean up after these riots. I have seen no indication that CNN, the NYT, or any other “mainstream” news outlet, are even aware that these videos exist.

    2. I believe, sir, that you have “hit the nail” on the head, so to say, on all counts. This won’t be a problem for the instigators, only the majority which are the ones that will suffer at the hands of it, being law abiding citizens, trying to get by and live their lives in peace. When these, so called entertainers seem to be so enthralled in putting their “two-cents” into the ring, it seems to make things much worse, all around. Possibly these entertainers, athletes, TV and movie personalities, politicians, etc…, should contain their comments to things that they know something about which seems mostly to be overpaid for the value of their work.

  3. After watching the Bryant shooting, I wouldn’t be a police officer for any amount of money. The idiots standing around saw THE SAME THING the officer saw, i.e., that Bryant was going to do exactly what she said she was, which was “stab the f***” out of the girl in the pink outfit. Just Bryant’s heft alone would have made it certain that she could have driven that knife completely through the intended victim and quite probably into the car. The officer had no choice but to shoot. Had he even hesitated, he would have had a probably critically injured stabbing victim to attend to, along with an armed criminal who almost certainly would have resisted arrest.

    The people who were standing around screaming at the officers seemed to think Bryant should have been given a “youth pass” for her efforts at attempted murder. Incredible. Just incredible. If I was a white police officer, there would be no way I would ever involve myself in trying to prevent black-on-black crime. Listen to that mob surrounding the officer. Why should he risk his job, pension and quite possibly his personal freedom for people who make it clear every day that they don’t appreciate anything he’s doing and regard the “po-po” as the enemy. Let the matter be handled informally, amongst themselves, in the “street justice” way so enamored of that population segment. If that results in more dead people…well, that is the outcome they and their neighborhood chose.

  4. In the Bryant shooting, I thought the officer should have divided his four shots between the female with the knife and the male that was using deadly force on the girl that was already in a helpless position on the ground. I guess maybe he saw the knife threat first and missed the other attack.

  5. It seems that in both instances, the officers responded in acceptable, justifiable manners. One in protecting others and the other in protecting self. It’s sad that our world seems to be going in this direction. Situations like these are definitely put out to the public and the world faster in these times and days with the improved communications to the public and the world.
    As always, Mr. Branca, I thank you for communicating actual footage of each incident and your comments of both from a lawful and legal perspective. You bring, at least, some semblance of fact and expectation to the table versus depending on some reporters opinion of what occurred to be reported in the news reports which, normally seems to added at least another “opinion” to the depth of things.
    Thanks and Stay Safe, always,
    J.W. Hood
    Elk Mound, WI

  6. It wasn’t the suspect’s fault, and the blame is on the knives. This is why I believe there will be serial numbers placed on all sharps with back ground checks done on the purchaser?

  7. Andrew, I have been a huge fan since I discovered your content last summer. I’ve learned so much and really appreciate your clear thinking perspective on these police use of force cases. However, I think I disagree with you on the California case. And that’s even with a bias in favor of the police on this one. Danville/San Ramon is my hometown. It just didn’t look to me like the element of eminence was satisfied. Yes, the man had a knife drawn and yes he wasn’t complying with the officer’s commands but a knife strike didn’t appear to be in progress or eminent as in the Ohio case. Moreover the officer had his pistol drawn and pointed at the subject. He was a trigger pull away from stopping the man if he lunged with the knife. What am I missing?

    1. Attorney Andrew Branca

      There’s no guarantee that a pistol round, or even several pistol rounds, is going to stop a man armed with a knife. There are many cases where police shoot a knife-armed suspect, numerous times, and he continues running around stabbing police and others, until the suspect finally succumbs to the gunshot wounds sometime later, after a bunch of innocent people have been stabbed, maimed, or killed. The suspect here pulled the knife and advanced on the officer from a distance of only a step or two–that’s an imminent threat: Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy. The officer is not obliged, upon seeing those circumstances, to place his life in the hands of the aggressor’s kind wishes.

      For more insight on why a police officer might promptly use deadly defensive force to stop a knife-armed aggressor advancing on him, I’ve updated the post above with a video of a knife attack on a Miami-Dade police officer a few years ago.

      1. I think the Arbery video is a good demonstration of what a man armed with a knife could do after being shot center mass. How may times could he have stabbed or cut Travis in the 10 or 12 seconds he fought him after having his heart blown all to pieces with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot at close range. Twenty four .31 caliber holes in him center mass and he didn’t go down or quit fighting. Thirty-one caliber is 8mm.

        1. Attorney Andrew Branca

          I’m not sure we know the precise nature of the shotgun wound to Arbery. Whether he had his hand over the muzzle, whether he took a full 12 gauge load to the chest, etc. At least I haven’t seen any evidence of that. If you have such evidence and would care to share, I’d appreciate it.

          1. I definitely remember they said he had 12 shot still in his body and 12 addition holes where shot passed all the way through his body. He also had what was probably powder burns on one hand. I believe his left arm was broken, but I not sure on that. I thought you posted the autopsy report, anyway, the autopsy report is where I got it.

          2. I checked back and I didn’t see the autopsy report on your site. You can google it aitopsyfiles.org. Both entrance wounds in the chest. Holes a little over an inch diameter.

    2. When I first saw the video of the second event, I initially thought it was completely unjustified. “I have a knife!” the officer said. Really, what knife? I almost thought the officer said that as “magic words” to justify what was an illegal shooting.

      Now, I have a tendency to watch videos at x2, in an effort to watch as much material as possible, so I had to slow down the video and make it full screen, and when I watched it again, I had a bit of a chill go down my spine.

      Oh. That knife. And even at normal speed, it popped out really fast.

      Before I did that, I thought I wouldn’t have fired, had I been in that position, because it was unjustified. Now I think I wouldn’t have fired — and I’d be dead — or maybe at least hospitalized, in critical condition with multiple stab wounds.

    3. Sorry to plug another YT channel, but watch this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eX7f_6ilZvE
      Also, Google action/reaction and OODA loop. Basically, it takes longer to assess a situation and react because the suspect/attacker has already formed the mental intention and started to move. If the officer waits until the knife is in motion coming toward him, reaction time says that the officer will be stabbed before he can pull the trigger.

      1. In the case of the second video, I have this tendency to think that the officer should have kept his distance — but that thought is only valid if the officer knew about the knife — and I don’t see how he could have known. Considering how fast the officer shot him when the knife came out, I doubt the officer would have gotten near the guy had it been obvious the guy had a knife out and ready to be used.

        1. Attorney Andrew Branca

          Interesting that you perceived the officer in the second video as being fast to shoot. I thought he was quite slow to shoot–it seemed to me that it took him an usually long period to actually see the openly displayed knife.

          1. I had the impression that the suspect in the second shoot didn’t even have his knife out when the officer first approached him — that the officer started yelling “put down the knife” almost immediately after the suspect whipped it out, and the officer shot him just seconds after that.

            It happened so fast, I initially thought the suspect didn’t even have a knife until I reviewed the video!

            Come to think of it, my perceptions may have been colored somewhat by initially attempting to watch the video at x2 speed, but then again, I also thought the entire encounter went fast even at normal speed. The three videos you provided in this post (including the one showing the officer getting stabbed multiple times) show us that brutal lethal force incidents can happen very fast.

          2. I think I should also make it clear that, when I say “it happened so fast” or say “how fast the officer shot him”, I don’t intend to imply that he was a “shoot first, ask questions never, don’t even think about other options” kind of officer — I think the officer did every thing he could, given the circumstances, to encourage the suspect to put down the knife — I say this as, even despite doing everything he could, there wasn’t much time between the suspect pulling out the knife, the officer yelling “put down the knife”, and the suspect advancing on him, and the officer shooting him.

            Now that I’m re-reading your comment, I’m wondering if I ought to watch the video again — perhaps the suspect had the knife all along, and I didn’t see it until shortly before the shooting. In any case, once I confirmed that the knife was there, I cannot fault the officer for the shooting.

          3. Ok, having rewatched the video — this time, a little slowly — I am convinced that the suspect had the knife hidden in his sleeve.

            And I’m also a little disturbed by the actions of the suspect. On the one hand, although he wasn’t cooperative, he didn’t strike me as someone about to commit violence — he didn’t have the demeanor I’d expect of someone about to angrily or coldly take someone’s life. On the other hand, for all his lack of “I’m going to kill you” demeanor, he just barely pulled a knife out and started walking towards the officer. Obviously, this doesn’t mean the officer shouldn’t have shot him — but the weird juxtaposition of “Hey, I just want to be left alone” and “Hey, I have a knife and I’m going to walk towards you” ….

  8. guilty as charged

    People and juries learn ballistics watching Hollywood movies/ series. One shot and the person goes down and instantly dies is not real life. In real life, the person shot in the heart will still be conscious for what seems like an eternity, and the harm they can do in that brief span of time is incredible. Police Gramins had a gunfight with Mattox and shot him 17 times with a .45 caliber handgun before he went down, the last shot being in the head. Read it here – https://www.policemag.com/340699/shots-fired-skokie-illinois-08-25-2008

    Drugs in the system are another factor. With some adrenaline, you feel no pain. Then there is the sheer determination of the person. I have met police who have emptied their gun, shot the subject in the heart, and then had to run. Shoot them in the leg is another myth even President Biden does not or does not want to understand. The leg is a very small and moving target. It also has a femoral artery which when severed can lead to a bleed out and death in about a minute.
    Most gun trainers say they would rather be shot than stabbed. The gunshot can be saved if he get to a hospital within an hour. The stabbed will bleed out very quickly. A knowledgable knifer can cut all you mayor arteries in a few seconds. He knows the places where a torniquete can not be applied. Police are taught to continue to shoot till the gun falls out of the perps hand. With a knifer, distance is your only friend.

    1. And how much distance can a man cover in 10 seconds.? From the 21 feet in 1.5 seconds I calculate about 140 feet. The 21 foot distance is the put your head between your legs and kiss your but goodbye distance.

  9. This the content that makes it worth $10/month. I have not seen the full videos of these incidents. The media always shows just a few seconds and one network edited frames from the Columbus incident to make the officer look bad.

    Andrew, what is the SCOTUS ruling that says that a police officer does not have to wait for a suspect to actually shoot at or point a gun at the officer before the officer may defend himself? The ruling said that if the officer waits until the suspect has the gun pointed at the officer it is too late the officer will likely get shot.

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