A Brigham and Women’s Hospital valet who was shot in the eye by Boston police last year is suing his employer, arguing that his injuries happened because medical center security unnecessarily escalated a confrontation with a man who was ultimately shot to death by law enforcement — and turned out to have only a paintball gun.
Justin Desmarais was doing his job on Feb. 7, 2020, when he ended up with a gunshot wound to the head and right eye that left bullet fragments in his brain, according to his 10-page civil suit filed in Suffolk Superior Court.
The man who set the events in motion, Juston Root, led police on a car chase to Brookline, where he died in a barrage of 31 shots fired by police at close range.
When hospital security first interacted with Root that morning, he was nonsensical and something was “seriously off,” the lawsuit said. When Root showed his fake gun, security bungled their response, mischaracterized the threat when they summoned police, and escalated matters while waiting for officers to arrive, the lawsuit said.
“The BWH security personnel incorrectly described the situation and threat to the Boston Police Department,” the lawsuit said.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The lawsuit also names three security officers at the hospital, accusing them of “negligent” actions that set up a domino effect that led to the shooting of Desmarais.
Had security officers stopped approaching and antagonizing Root while waiting for police to get there, the lawsuit said, Root wouldn’t have chased them, “which positioned Root on Vining Street directly across the street” from where Desmarais was standing — a busy area near the hospital’s covered main entrance.
The security officers had a duty to protect and should have warned everyone in the vicinity — including Desmarais — led them to shelter, and initiated a hospital lockdown, the lawsuit said.
“After Justin Desmarais was shot in the head, the BWH security officers finally did what they should have and could have done earlier,” the lawsuit said. “They had many opportunities to do so before Justin Desmarais was shot in the head, but failed to do so.”
Desmarais’s gunshot wound caused traumatic brain injury, loss of vision, fractures, and hemorrhaging, according to the suit. The emotional toll includes severe anxiety, depression, fear, and distress, according to the lawsuit, and his ongoing medical and physical therapy expenses, so far, add up to nearly $280,000.
The suit, filed Jan. 22, demands a jury trial and unspecified damages.
Desmarais’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Root’s sister, Jennifer Root Bannon, is also named in the lawsuit in her capacity as personal representative of her brother’s estate. It was Juston Root’s reckless actions that set the events of Feb. 7, 2020, into motion, the lawsuit said.
Root, 41, of Mattapan, had a history of mental health issues.
“What I think is important is this security guard knew that something was seriously wrong with Juston, that he was nonsensical,” Root Bannon said Monday in a telephone interview. “If this was truly an armed and dangerous man, why are these unarmed security guards going and repeatedly interacting with him?”
Root’s family is pursuing a wrongful death suit against the city of Boston and six law enforcement officers.
The Norfolk district attorney’s office cleared the officers involved in Root’s fatal shooting in March. But in the wrongful death lawsuit filed in August, Root’s family cited body camera footage they say shows officers charging and killing an injured, unarmed man while he was on the ground, struggling to breathe.
The Root family also has petitioned Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey for an independent investigation into Root’s death and has gathered more than 8,700 signatures.
A stone plaque now marks the site.