Video of police killing a man following a high-speed chase that began outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital in February appears to contradict a key aspect of a district attorney’s report that found the shooting was justified.
In his March ruling that police had been justified in the fatal shooting of Juston Root, Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey wrote that in the moments immediately preceding the shooting near a Chestnut Hill shopping area, multiple officers shouted that they saw Root with a gun before they opened fire.
“More than one officer yelled ’gun,’ ” Morrissey wrote in his seven-page report. “Simultaneously, six officers opened fire to stop the threat.”
But police body camera footage released Wednesday, following a records request by the Globe, does not appear to show any of the six officers describing a gun in the moments before police fired their weapons. Root, a 41-year-old Mattapan man with a long history of mental illness who’d earlier that day pointed a fake gun at an officer near Brigham and Women’s, was fatally shot in the barrage of police gunfire.
Although six officers were involved in the shooting, only one body camera picked up the incident. The video footage is largely obscured, but officers can be heard shouting instructions for Root to get down and to put his hands up, and one officer appears to begin to say “drop” at the moment officers open fire.
At no point can any officer be heard referring to a gun.
Attorney Mark A. Berthiaume, who is representing Root’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit filed earlier this month in US District Court, cited the discrepancies between the district attorney’s report and video footage as he called upon Morrissey Thursday to reopen the investigation into the shooting, or seek an independent investigation.
“The video recordings that were recently made public, as well as the interviews of civilian and law enforcement witnesses, fully corroborate the detailed facts outlined in the federal court complaint filed last Monday by the Root family,” Berthiaume said in a statement to the Globe on Thursday. “We believe that those facts paint a far different picture than that portrayed in the Norfolk County DA’s investigative report exonerating the six law enforcement officers.”
Asked Thursday about the discrepancy between the report and what the video appears to show, David Traub, a spokesman for Morrissey, said in an e-mailed statement, “The DA’s view and findings were based on the totality of the evidence, not just the audio or video, and he stands by his report.”
Responding to a follow-up e-mail about where the detail of shouts of “gun” might’ve come from, Traub responded, “Witness statements.”
Statements by civilian witnesses and police in the aftermath of the shooting were not part of the evidence released publicly Wednesday by the Norfolk district attorney’s office.
But in Morrissey’s report, one of the officers involved in the shooting — David Godin, who was also involved in the earlier altercation with Root at Brigham and Women’s — said he had heard another officer shout “gun” immediately before he opened fire.
“[Godin] observed Root reach into his jacket, heard someone shout ’gun’ and fired his weapon,” Morrissey wrote.
In an interview Thursday, Root’s sister, Jennifer Root Bannon, said she has watched the video depicting her brother’s shooting repeatedly and has never heard anyone refer to a gun.
“I’ve never heard it, and believe me, I’ve listened at full blast,” said Bannon, 44, of Needham.
The Feb. 7 incident began when Root pulled a fake gun earlier that day on an officer outside of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in a chaotic and confusing scene. Officers on scene opened fire, inadvertently injuring a valet working in the area.
Root, who also appeared to have been shot, then took off in a Chevy Volt and was pursued by police before crashing more than 3 miles away, near the Chestnut Hill shopping area. Traffic camera footage shows Root’s vehicle hitting another vehicle, then flying through an intersection at high speed before coming to a stop nearby. Root can be seen stumbling from the car and eventually falling onto a nearby sidewalk.
Police cruisers arrived within moments, Morrissey’s report states, and multiple officers would later provide statements saying they’d seen Root reaching for what they believed to be a gun inside his jacket before firing.
Officers later found a BB gun in a shoulder holster worn by Root, according to the report, as well as a pair of plastic paint ball guns in his crashed vehicle.
On Thursday, Root’s sister reiterated her desire for the independent inquiry into her brother’s death, saying that while she respects the work that law enforcement does, the inconsistencies between the released video footage and the district attorney’s report warrant a new look.
“I think the videos and the statements and the interviews that they took paints a different picture than what we were told, and that’s a problem,” Bannon said. “I believe that this investigation was faulty, and Juston, the public, and my family deserves no less than an independent investigation.”
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.