‘Are you going to shoot me?’: The police killing of Ta'Kiya Young

The shooting death of Young, 21, has left her family asking questions about everything from the actions taken by Blendon Township police to the use of Marsy’s Law to shield the officers involved.
Ta'Kiya Young with her youngest son, Ja'Kenli
Ta'Kiya Young with her youngest son, Ja'KenliCourtesy the Young family

Nadine Young has hanging in her home a photo collage of her granddaughter, Ta’Kiya Young, the 21-year-old, pregnant mother of two who was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Kroger by Blendon Township police on Aug. 24.

The collage includes a photo of Ta’Kiya as a toddler, bottle of milk clutched in her left hand, a broad grin stretched across her face. The same smile reappears in another picture taken a couple of years later, which shows Ta’Kiya standing in a baby pool surrounded by inflatable toys, thumbs up extended to the camera. But Nadine said the photo she keeps drifting back to is one taken of the two of them together at the Ohio State Fair when Ta’Kiya was just 13.

“I worked at the gate at the fair for 10 years – I greet people, I’m the ticket taker, the ‘hello’ girl, the ‘goodbye’ girl – and I hear, ‘Hey, granny!’ And she comes walking up with that little belly shirt on,” Nadine said, and laughed. “And she came up and hugged me, and we took a couple pictures, and it just tickled me that she was looking so grown. … I mean, it still takes me back.”

Other photographs in the collage, however, are more painful to revisit, including one of a visibly pregnant Ta’Kiya taken on her birthday just weeks before she was killed. “She was looking like a little angel, and that did something to me,” said Nadine, whose thoughts later turned to Ta’Kiya’s two young sons, Ja’Kobie, 6, and Ja’Kenli, 3, and to the unborn girl with whom she was pregnant, and who was also killed when police fired a single shot through the windshield of Ta'Kiya's Lexus sedan. “Ja’Kobie and Ja’Kenli, they’re going to hear stories about [Ta’Kiya’s death], and they need to know that their mama was important. I know she’s in their hearts, and she’s important to them. … But they need to know about her character, her mindset. All she wanted to do was live for her kids and do right by her kids, including that little girl, who she didn’t live long enough to have. So I’m gonna shout as loud as I can about her, for her. Because if something happened to me like that, she would do the same thing. And she would be the loudest person out there.”

And Ta’Kiya could be loud, her family said, with her uncle, Trayshawn White, describing her as effortlessly outgoing and in possession of a booming voice – traits he said had been inherited by Ta’Kiya’s two sons, who share in her effervescent, larger than life nature. “You’re gonna hear them, too, when they walk in a room,” he said.

Before becoming primary caregiver to Ta’Kiya when the youngster turned 2 years old, Nadine had five sons, and she embraced finally having another girl in her home, purchasing Ta'Kiya dresses to wear and exploring the city alongside the child. As a teenager, Ta'Kiya gravitated toward athletics, running track at Champion Middle School and Capital High School Bridgescape, which Nadine said introduced a needed focus that gradually carried into other aspects of her life.

“Having that activity, she stopped getting in trouble at school, so I was glad for that. But she also got this sense that if she put her mind to something she was going to accomplish it,” said Nadine, pointing to the effort Ta’Kiya put into graduating high school after having her first child as a teenager. “And that started to become a pattern, to me, where if she said she wanted to do something, she was definitely going to do it.”

In recent years, most of this effort was dedicated toward her children, with family members saying that Ta’Kiya went to great lengths provide more for her two sons than she had as a child – even if that meant occasionally spoiling them. “She’d pull up this whole table with candy on a random day and be like, ‘Go at it,’” White said, and laughed. “I have a house full of kids, and she’d bring her kids over and they’d all just be running around, playing.”

“We didn’t have a lot when she [was a child],” said Nadine, who worked at Frisch’s Big Boy in those years, caring for own children alongside Ta’Kiya. “On Christmases, I made sure the smaller ones had all the doll babies and all that good stuff, but maybe in her eyes it wasn’t as much or exactly what she wanted, and so she made sure her kids had everything.”

Nadine and White also described Ta’Kiya as a prankster, but one at whom it was impossible to stay mad. The two recalled how Ta'Kiya once poured water on a sibling as he slept, and then sat down and acted as though she’d done nothing at all. “She wouldn’t let you stay too mad too long,” White said, with Nadine then recalling how Ta’Kiya would repeatedly fall back on the smile evident in nearly every picture in her treasured photo collage.

“You always knew she was going to pop back up with that big, Cheshire Cat grin,” she said, “and start chit-chatting with you like nothing was wrong.”

On the day Ta’Kiya Young died, she told her family that she was going to the grocery store. And when she didn’t return, and a couple of hours passed, the family began to hope she would again pop up, flash that big smile and alleviate their growing concerns.

Instead, Nadine eventually pinged her granddaughter's phone, and the family tracked its location to the Kroger at 5991 S. Sunbury Rd. There they remained, kept in the dark by authorities for nearly an hour before being informed by police that Ta’Kiya had been shot and killed.

An autopsy report released in early October showed that Ta’Kiya died when a single bullet pierced her chest, striking her heart and aorta. Ta’Kiya’s baby, a girl between 25- and 28-weeks gestational age, also died in the shooting. Young’s family and attorney Sean Walton have identified Blendon Township police officer Connor Grubb as the person who fired the fatal shot. Citing Marsy’s Law, Blendon Township has not confirmed the identity of the officer.

Police first approached Young, who was seated in the driver’s seat of her four-door Lexus sedan, based on a report from a Kroger employee who alleged that she had shoplifted. (Blendon Township police later released surveillance footage that appears to show her stealing bottles of alcohol from the store.)

In body camera footage released a week after the shooting, two Blendon Township police officers can then be seen approaching Young’s vehicle in the parking lot. One stands at her driver’s side window and asks her to get out of the car, which she refuses, while the other, identified by Young’s family as Grubb, moves to the front of the vehicle, gun already drawn. Both officers curse at Young, telling her to get out of the vehicle, and she can be heard asking, “Are you going to shoot me?”

Family attorney Sean Walton said Grubb, in having his weapon drawn as he approached the vehicle, signaled an intent to use deadly force. “The car wasn’t moving,” he said. “He threatened the use of deadly force because she didn’t get out of the car. And that is what comply or die looks like. And you cannot be killed for not complying.”

Why did Young begin to drive off? Maybe because she was scared. Maybe because she had a fear of the police that she shared with her grandmother and her uncle, both of whom expressed a growing discomfort with law enforcement, having increasingly been exposed to footage of officers shooting and killing Black men and women. “When we see those things on the news, it gives us all that feeling,” White said. “And me and Ta'Kiya, we talked with each other about how to act [if approached by the police]. But you can’t put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. And you can't know what you’re going to do with a gun in your face.”

“It makes sense that a 21-year-old is going to be scared in that situation. And it makes sense she’d be even more scared when based on an accusation of shoplifting she looks up and there’s a police officer pointing a gun at her,” Walton said.

“I’d have been scared, too, with a man banging on my car, pointing a gun at me,” Nadine Young said. “She was worried about her and her baby, and that’s all I could see in her face when she asked, ‘Are you going to shoot me?’”

Whatever the reason, instead of exiting the vehicle, Young turned the steering wheel all the way to the right and put the car into gear. The vehicle then moves forward and makes brief contact with Grubb, who fires a single shot through the windshield, killing both Young and her baby. In footage later released, officers can be seen placing Young in handcuffs once her car rolls to a stop, and Walton said nearly 10 minutes passed before an officer asks another where the medics are and is met with the response that they have not yet been cleared to approach the scene.

The entire initial exchange with the first two officers who approach Ta’Kiya lasts only about a minute but has left Young’s family shattered and asking questions about everything from the actions taken by Grubb to the use of Marsy’s Law to shield the identity of the officers involved in the shooting.

“Marsy’s Law ain’t got nothing to do with [Grubb]. He ain’t no victim,” Nadine Young said of Blendon Township’s interpretation of the law, which went into effect in April and specifies public offices must "take measures to prevent the public disclosure" of crime victim’s names, addresses and other identifying information.

Under the law, Ohio police departments, including Blendon Township and the Columbus Division of Police, have ceased identifying officers who shoot people, with CPD releasing a statement saying these officers are also considered victims and identifying them would be illegal. (Police in other states have also used a version of Marsy’s Law to shield the identity of officers, and the practice is currently being challenged in the Florida Supreme Court.)

“It really troubled me to learn that police officers are now using Marsy’s Law to hide their identities and minimize any public accountability,” said Columbus attorney Fred Gittes, whose legal practice focuses heavily on cases involving police misconduct. “Police officers are agents of the public. There has never been, in my lifetime, a notion that police officers are a secret force, where they’re not to be known to members of the community. … I think many [officers] would agree they should be in a position where they’re being monitored and they’re being open with the public. How else can they develop trust? … And if officers’ names can be hidden related to a particular event, how then can they be held accountable? How can the public be protected? It’s about recognizing the public nature of police work, and the need for public confidence in police work.”

Even more pressing than issues related to the continued shielding of the officers’ identities, though, are the actions taken by Grubb, at least some of which appear to fall outside of Blendon Township police policy.

Reviewing the video of the shooting in his office, Walton highlighted the moment after Young turns the steering wheel of her car all the way to the right, when Grubb can be seen placing his hand on the hood of the vehicle and repositioning himself from the driver’s side and toward the middle of the vehicle. “So, when people say she struck him, he is the one who engaged the vehicle,” Walton said. “He sees her moving and instead of getting out of the way, per [department] policy, he shifts to the center of the car.”

The Blendon Township Police Department policy manual, a copy of which was obtained by Matter News, states that “when feasible, officers should take reasonable steps to move out of the path of an approaching vehicle instead of discharging their firearm at the vehicle or any of its occupants.”

The policy manual also notes that shots fired at or from moving vehicles involve additional considerations and risks and are rarely effective.

“What really surprised me was the officer standing right in front of the car, which is something we call officer-created jeopardy, where you’re putting yourself in a position to have to use force, or deadly force, in self-defense,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina who has researched high-risk police activities for more than three decades and reviewed the publicly available footage of Young’s shooting. “You have to look at not just the shooting, but the approach. What did he know? Why did he approach with a firearm unholstered? What’s the decision in pointing the gun? … And you could be justified in drawing your gun, depending what you know. And you could be justified in pointing your gun. But I don’t know when you’d be justified standing in front of the car.”

These are among the kinds of questions currently being asked by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which is tasked with leading the inquiry into the shooting. Once the investigation is complete, the evidence will be turned over to the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office for review. As with all fatal police shootings, the prosecutor’s office will then present the case to a grand jury, which will determine if criminal charges against the officer are warranted. 

In the interim, Young’s family said they will continue to advocate – loudly, if need be – for justice for Ta’Kiya, aided by a community they said has turned up at a time when the support is greatly needed.

“My whole village – my five sons and all our family members and everyone around us – together we’re going to help raise her kids and protect over them, because we got to look out for each other,” said Nadine, who has struggled with health issues in recent years, including multiple heart attacks, a minor stroke, and operations on her both her back and knee. “But I’m gonna do everything I can to my last breath to get justice for her, and to make sure her kids are raised right, with good people around them to help them grow up the right way. I need my village, and I need the community of people that’s come into my life. And I’m rallying for that community to be there, and to be there in support until we get to the other side.”

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