Is this what transparency looks like?
Nearly three weeks after police shot and killed Juston Root in a confrontation that started at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins held a press conference Tuesday to announce what many had already begun to suspect.
Namely, that Root, a 41-year-old man with a history of mental illness, had been shot while brandishing not a real weapon, but a fake one.
A Brigham parking valet — who has yet to be identified — was wounded in the same incident. Like Root, the valet was hit by a shot fired by a Boston police officer. That shot, as Rollins confirmed, was believed to have ricocheted before striking the victim in the eye.
After the confrontation with police, Root stumbled and ran away. He would jump into his Chevy Volt and drive west down Route 9, where he was fatally shot in another confrontation with police four miles away, near the Chestnut Hill Mall.
Though the full investigation may take months to complete, Rollins said she felt obligated to announce what she knows so far about the initial shooting, and to disclose that the valet was wounded by a Boston police officer.
“I didn’t want to wait months for this to come out,” Rollins said.
This investigation has been complicated by a number of factors, she said. First the fact that it was really two separate incidents, involving four different law enforcement agencies — the Boston, Brookline, and Newton police departments, as well as the State Police.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said the video clearly showed that the shooting was justified.
“As you can see in this video, things happened in a matter of seconds,” Gross said. “We’re human too, and quite frankly you can see that officer was quite definitely in fear of his life.”
Rollins said she also considered it important that Root’s family, as well as the valet, knew what was being announced before they heard it in the media. She met with Root’s family at their attorney’s office before the press conference Tuesday; simultaneously, her first assistant, Dan Mulhern, and Gross were briefing the valet.
This incident is a tragedy for Root’s loved ones, of course. But it has also definitely disrupted the peace at Brigham and Women’s, which was the scene of a deadly shooting of a beloved surgeon five years ago.
The most pressing question is whether police acted appropriately in shooting Root. Obviously, more evidence could come to light, and Rollins cautioned more than once that a final determination could be months away.
Also, hers is not the only investigation. Because Root died in Norfolk County, Rollins’s counterpart Michael Morrissey, is investigating as well. Morrissey’s spokesman said Tuesday there is no firm time for announcing any developments in that part of the case.
The Brigham shooting promises to be a test of the relationship between Rollins and Gross. A police-involved shooting inevitably creates tension between their agencies. In such situations, the investigators become the investigated. That’s never comfortable.
But tender feelings are nothing compared to the urgency of getting to the heart of this puzzling shooting. Why was Root walking around a hospital with a replica handgun? What did he want? Might there have been a peaceful resolution, or no? All those questions have yet to be answered.
Already we know more than we might have known in years past — just because we’ve seen at least part of what happened. It’s now on all of the other investigating agencies — specifically, the Norfolk DA’s office — to meet that same standard of transparency.
Ultimately, what happened outside the Brigham three weeks ago is a piece of a larger puzzle. We still don’t know who shot Root to death, or why his life came to that end.
But a district attorney has acknowledged that we have a right to know, and not after any potential firestorm has had plenty of time to blow over.
That’s a policy many of Rollins’s predecessors wouldn’t recognize.