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Boston police and a state trooper are facing a wrongful death lawsuit over the shooting of a man with a history of mental illnesses.
Police shot and killed 41-year-old Juston Root in February after a confrontation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, a car chase through Brookline and a crash in Chestnut Hill.
There, according to the lawsuit, the officers fatally shot Root while he was on the ground unarmed and seriously injured. In what the lawsuit describes as "unnecessary, gratuitous, and disproportionate force," the officers collectively fired at least 31 rounds within three seconds.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Boston on Monday, the 35-page lawsuit demands a trial by jury and accused officials of "multiple failures to adhere to standards and policies, depriving Juston Root of his civil rights, wrongful death, excessive use of force and more," according to a statement from the plaintiff.
Root's sister, Jennifer Root Bannon, is the named plaintiff, and is being represented by the law firm Greenberg Traurig.
"The truth must be told about how Juston was killed,” said Root Bannon in a statement. “The officers and trooper must be held accountable for their egregious actions and misconduct unloading their weapons and shooting 31 times while he was on the ground, bleeding and barely conscious. Juston was a kind, loving son and brother and his death is a tragedy. Juston and our family deserves no less than the truth being revealed and those responsible held accountable under the law."
The incident began on Feb. 7 when Boston police responded to Brigham and Women's Hospital for reports of a man with a gun in the area. When Officer David Godin saw Root, he began reaching for his gun, alleges the suit. Only once Root saw Godin's weapon did he take out a clear plastic paintball gun from his waistband. Godin fired at Root and stumbled backward.
In late February, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said Root brandished a replica firearm outside the hospital. The DA's report also determined that, since Root did not have a functional gun, it was a Boston Police officer who shot a hospital valet injured in the incident.
Despite being shot, Root was able to run to his car and leave the scene. Officers gave chase as he drove toward Brookline on Route 9. The suit alleges that officers attempted to deliberately strike his vehicle.
Later, Root collided with another vehicle in the Chestnut Hill area. When he got out of his vehicle, he stumbled and collapsed on the ground, and, the lawsuit alleges, an EMT in the area attended to him briefly before the officers pursuing Root told her to step away.
The lawsuit says that each of the defendants provided statements after the incident that they did not see Root brandish a weapon at any time in Chestnut Hill. The officers shouted at Root to get down, though he was still on the ground. Then, the suit alleges, the officers opened fire with 31 shots in three seconds. (This echos the Norfolk District Attorney's report from March that Root was shot 26 times within 3.5 seconds and 31 shell casing were recovered at the scene.)
After the shooting, two officers handcuffed Root and during a search found a BB gun under his body.
The lawsuit describes video recorded after the shooting, and claims the footage shows officers did not provide medical aid after the shooting.
In the immediate moments after the shooting, the officers congratulated each other with phrases like "Yeah, I killed that motherf-----" and "I emptied my magazine on him." The officers also appeared to discuss how to cover up their actions: “You got a [union] rep coming?” “I won’t talk,” “I gotta get out of here,” according to the court filing.
In March, Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey issued a report saying the six officers involved were justified in their use of deadly force. The report claims that Root appeared to pull a gun after the crash.
In addition to Godin, the Boston police officers named in the suit are Joseph McMenamy, Leroy Fernandes, Brenda Figueroa and Corey Thomas. The Massachusetts state trooper is Paul Conneely.
The lawsuit describes Root's long struggle with mental illness, including bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. He had been receiving treatment at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, next to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, since 2010. He had delusions that he was a police officer, which led to past interactions with BPD, according to the lawsuit. The department had added him to its Field Interrogation and Observation database.
Mayor Marty Walsh's office told WBUR that it has "no comment due to pending litigation."
State police also declined to give a statement, saying it would respond through the legal process when appropriate. The Boston Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
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