As the bloodied man wobbled and fell, a former paramedic in a nearby parking lot ran to him. She had an arm on the wounded man’s shoulder when six officers swarmed the scene at a shopping center on Route 9 and screamed at her to run.
One raised his foot, kicked the crouched man over and, in unison with the other officers, took aim at Juston Root and fired 31 rounds in three seconds, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed Monday in US District Court in Boston.
Root, a 41-year-old with a long history of mental illness, had led police on a wild chase to Brookline on Feb. 7 after brandishing a fake gun at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was struck 26 times. Because most of the bullets went through him, his body was riddled with 50 gunshot wounds, the suit said.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Root’s sister, Jennifer Root Bannon, on behalf of Root’s estate, names the City of Boston, five Boston police officers, and a Massachusetts State Trooper as defendants. The 35-page lawsuit demands a jury trial on seven allegations, including negligent training and supervision, assault and battery, and excessive use of force.
The Boston Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. The Massachusetts State Police agency said it would respond to the lawsuit in court.
In March, the Norfolk District Attorney’s office found that police were justified in shooting Root, who had displayed what appeared to be a gun in a chaotic scene at the hospital. Prosecutors concluded that Root’s weapon was a BB gun, and a valet wounded at the hospital had been accidentally shot by police.
The district attorney’s report said that police ordered Root to show his hands and get on the ground, but he instead moved his hands inside his jacket in a manner “consistent with reaching for a handgun with the type of shoulder holster he was wearing.” According to that report, multiple officers observed the gesture and yelled “gun” and the five officers and trooper “opened fire to stop the threat.” The use of force “was objectively reasonable,‘' the report found.
According to the lawsuit, officers shook hands and congratulated each other after the shooting.
“I killed that mother [expletive]. I emptied my magazine on him ... I won’t talk,” some officers were recorded saying, the lawsuit alleged. Someone suggested they check for a pulse, but they didn’t bother, according to the lawsuit.
“Don’t think he has one,” someone said. Instead, they handcuffed him, the lawsuit said. The district attorney’s report said that paramedics arrived on scene “within moments” to render aid to Root.
The Boston police officers named in the suit are Leroy Fernandes, Brenda Figueroa, David Godin, Joseph McMenamy, and Corey Thomas, along with Massachusetts State Trooper Paul Conneely.
Root, of Mattapan, had been wounded by police at the hospital after wielding what prosecutors described as “a very realistic looking” fake gun. He hobbled to his car and led police on a four-mile chase to the shopping center in Brookline.
The claims in the lawsuit focus on the fatal scene, where “[Root] did not point or brandish a weapon of any kind” and “undeniably posed no immediate threat to harm anyone,” the lawsuit said.
It alleges that officers charged and killed a bleeding, unarmed man while he was on the ground and struggling to breathe.
Although each Boston police officer at the scene had been issued a body camera, none recorded the shooting, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit, based on officer and witness statements and district attorneys’ reports, said two officers forgot to turn their cameras on until afterward and two others didn’t wear their body cams that day. Figueroa had her camera on, but footage was obstructed; she turned it off five minutes after the shooting.
The rounds of congratulations were captured on video, according to the lawsuit.
Jennifer Root Bannon said she and her father, Evan Root, have reviewed those recordings extensively.
“I could not believe it,” she said. “It was disgusting.”
“I could believe it,” Evan Root said. “Only because I was seeing it.”
Root was struck 22 times in the torso, numerous times in both legs and his left arm. His right finger and thumb were blown clear through.
“Mr. Root suffered brain hemorrhaging due to a projectile that hit his vertebrae, resulting in a sudden rush of blood from his aorta to his brain,” the autopsy report said.
Decades of mental illness had created a deeply troubled life for his son, Evan Root said.
His son had his first psychotic break and hospitalization at age 19 but had shown signs of mental illness long before that, he said. At 19, Juston Root was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder and sometimes plunged into paranoia, Evan Root said.
Evan Root said he often replays the scenario of his son’s death in his head.
“Sometimes it can almost feel as though I’m getting shot, really,” he said. “It’s a devastating thing to think of my son, who was dear to me, being so misunderstood.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages, but Root’s family said their primary motivation is to hold the officers’ accountable for their conduct and ensure that police take steps to prevent similar killings.
“Certainly, damages should be awarded and punishment should be exacted, but that’s not what is driving this case,” said the family’s lawyer, Mark Berthiaume.
The lawsuit describes an out-of-control police response with no one in charge and commands shouted one over another near the intersection of Route 9 and Hammond Street, where Root crashed his Chevrolet Volt at the entry to a shopping center.
“It was chaos,” the lawsuit said. “Technically, it was a disaster.”
Police knew they had wounded Root at the shooting at the Brigham, according to a radio dispatch.
By the time Root crashed, his car had lost pressure in three tires and he had lost an estimated 2,000 cc of blood, nearly half the amount of an average-sized adult, according to an ambulance report quoted in the lawsuit.
The former EMT, whose name is not disclosed in the lawsuit, told investigators she watched Root stagger from his wrecked car and fall. She said he was covered in blood, fell to a crawling position, and looked as if he were having a heart attack.
The former paramedic went to Root. He clutched his chest and did not make a sound.
That was when police rushed in. McMenamy shouted at the woman to run, stood over Root as he crouched, held his boot at a 90-degree angle and kicked him to the ground, the lawsuit said.
McMenamy stepped back, and along with the other five officers they “formed a loose line a few feet from Mr. Root” and opened fire, the suit said.
Police reported that a BB gun that Root sometimes carried in a shoulder holster was found in mulch under his body, according to the lawsuit. A clear paintball gun was found on the floor of Root’s crashed car below his bloodied driver’s seat, the lawsuit said.
“I am never going to be able to wrap my brain around how six officers were afraid of a man on the ground, visibly covered in blood, practically unconscious from all the blood loss ... that they had to shoot him over 30 times,” said Jennifer Root Bannon, 44, of Needham. “That’s barbaric. That’s an execution.”
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Godin boasted about emptying his magazine on Root. Conneely, the trooper, told McMenamy to keep his mouth shut and doled out congratulatory handshakes. Conneely withdrew his offer of a handshake to an officer who said he hadn’t fired his weapon, the lawsuit said.
In the spring, authorities released security video that captured the dramatic events before Root led police on the chase to Brookline.
Police were called to the hospital on a busy Friday morning by a 911 caller who reported a person with a gun near the entrance.
When police got there, Root took aim at officers with “a very realistic-looking” fake gun, authorities said.
Video of the confrontation between Root and an officer at the hospital showed Root pull what looked like a gun from his waistband and take aim at nearly point-blank range. The officer stumbled backward and fell, the video showed.
Two officers fired in response and one inadvertently shot a hospital valet in the eye.