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Norfolk DA rules police justified in fatal shooting of man with replica gun in Brookline

Police were justified in fatally shooting a Mattapan man more than two dozen times Feb. 7 in Brookline, shortly after the suspect pulled a replica firearm on a Boston police officer outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said Monday.

In a report on the violent confrontation, Morrissey wrote that the “use of force by police in Brookline was objectively reasonable” when officers opened fire on 41-year-old Juston Root near the intersection of Route 9 and Hammond Street in the Chestnut Hill section of Brookline.

Morrissey, whose report was contained in a letter to Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross and State Police Colonel Christopher Mason, wrote that in light of the findings, prosecutors “will take no further action relative to these six officers as to the performance and execution of their duties on February 7, 2020 in the town of Brookline.”

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Root’s mother, Barbara Root, could not be reached for comment Monday. The current wife of Root’s father, Evan Root, answered the phone at their Ashland home and said they were declining all comment on Morrissey’s report.

Root’s family has previously told the Globe that he showed signs of mental illness long before his first psychotic break and hospitalization at age 19, and that he had been diagnosed with with schizoaffective disorder.

Man with replica gun causes chaos at Brigham and Women's Hospital
Footage from February's shooting outside Brigham and Women's Hospital. (Video: MA District Attorney Office)

The chaotic episode last month began shortly after 9 a.m. in Boston, Morrissey wrote. That’s when a Brigham and Women’s security officer approached Boston police Officer Michael St. Peter and told him that a man, later identified as Root, had just flashed a gun at him when he asked Root to move his car.

At the same time, police dispatch communicated instructions to officers in the area to respond to the hospital for a man with a gun, a call that was answered by St. Peter and Boston police Officer David Godin.

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Godin arrived at the intersection of Fenwood Road and Vining Street looking for Root’s black Chevrolet Volt, and video evidence showed “an armed Root chasing BWH security officers,” Morrissey wrote. Root could also be seen trying to misdirect Godin and St. Peter when they first arrived, the report said.

Later Root began moving toward Godin on foot, telling Godin, “I’m law enforcement, I’m law enforcement,” Morrissey wrote. As Root came within a few feet of Godin, the report said, he reached into his waistband and retrieved what appeared to be a gun, aiming it at Godin. Authorities have previously released video footage of that tense exchange.

Godin ordered Root to drop his gun, raised his own service weapon, and began to retreat, Morrissey wrote. Godin then fell backward on the sidewalk as he fired, and Root struggled with Godin on the ground, according to the report.

St. Peter’s view of the incident initially was obstructed by a large delivery truck, but as he moved toward the intersection, he saw the struggle between Root and Godin, and then observed Root standing over Godin holding what appeared to be a gun, according to Morrissey.

At the time, St. Peter didn’t know the man on the ground was a fellow Boston officer, though he had heard the earlier shots, Morrissey wrote. St. Peter fired at Root, and 15 shell casings were later recovered at the scene, according to the report. Authorities previously said an unidentified hospital valet was inadvertently shot in the eye during the incident and survived.

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Root could be seen limping back to his Chevy Volt following the confrontation, corroborating the officers’ belief that their shots had struck him, Morrissey wrote. Godin and St. Peter got into their cruisers and pursued Root as he drove west on Route 9 toward Brookline, and additional police units joined the pursuit, according to Morrissey.

Root’s Volt struck multiple vehicles at the intersection of Route 9 and Hammond Street, which was also captured by video cameras, the report said. The Volt was traveling at 90 miles per hour seconds before the crash.

The law enforcement personnel involved in the fatal shooting at the intersection were State Trooper Paul Conneely, Godin, and fellow Boston police officers Brenda Figueroa, Corey Thomas, Joseph McMenamy, and Leroy Fernandes, Morrissey wrote. They were all in full uniform and driving marked cruisers.

Root exited his heavily damaged vehicle, and a woman who had been at a nearby Star Market approached him to offer help, according to the report. Police ordered the woman to get away from Root and shouted instructions at him to show his hands and get on the ground, commands that were “clearly audible” from Figueroa’s body camera and Boston and Brookline police radio transmissions, the report said.

Rather than comply with the instructions, Morrissey wrote, Root moved his hands inside his jacket in a manner “consistent with reaching for a handgun with the type of shoulder holster he was wearing." Multiple officers observed the gesture and yelled “gun," Morrissey wrote, and the six officers “opened fire to stop the threat.”

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Morrissey said the entire shooting lasted just 3 ½ seconds, and 31 shell casings were recovered at the scene. All casings were matched to the officers’ identified weapons, and an autopsy showed that Root had 26 “entry wounds."

Following the shooting, police observed Root’s shoulder holster and what appeared to be a black semi-automatic handgun, which State Police later determined was a semi-automatic BB pistol, Morrissey wrote, adding that paramedics arrived on scene “within moments” to render aid to Root.

He was later pronounced dead at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Tonya Alanez of the Globe Staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.