The sister of a Mattapan man who was shot and killed by six police officers who fired 31 rounds in three seconds three years ago, what she has called a barbaric execution, said she is appealing a recent federal court decision to dismiss her wrongful death lawsuit against the officers.
Juston Root, a 41-year-old with a long history of mental illness, had led police on a wild chase to Brookline on Feb. 7, 2020, after brandishing a fake gun at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Root, who was shot at least once outside the hospital, lost control of his car during the chase, ran from the vehicle, and collapsed before he was fatally shot.
The lawsuit, which was filed in US District Court in Boston in August 2020 by Root’s sister, Jennifer Root Bannon, on behalf of Root’s estate, named the City of Boston, five Boston police officers, and a Massachusetts State Police trooper as defendants. The lawsuit demanded a jury trial on seven allegations, including negligent training and supervision, assault and battery, and excessive use of force.
“We have filed with the appeals court and we’re confident in our position,” Jennifer Root Bannon said Thursday. “We have over 22,000 signatures in support of an independent investigation.” She said the family is looking forward to supporters joining them on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 9:15 a.m., in Chestnut Hill for a vigil on the third anniversary of Root’s death.
City officials declined to comment on the case. “The dismissal is under appeal, thus the case is still active,” a city spokesperson said. “Given the ongoing litigation, we have no comment at this time.”
The claims in the lawsuit focused on the fatal scene in Brookline, alleging that officers charged and killed a bleeding, unarmed man while he was on the ground and struggling to breathe.
Officers said they saw Root reaching inside his jacket before they opened fire and reported that a BB gun that Root sometimes carried in a shoulder holster was found in mulch under his body.
US District Judge Richard G. Stearns found that the officers did not violate Root’s Fourth Amendment rights against excessive use of force, and he said he would have also found that the officers were protected by the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, which provides a legal shield for police from civil lawsuits for much of their conduct in the line of duty.
“Despite Root’s injuries, the officers had reason to believe that Root continued to pose an immediate threat to themselves and the public,” Stearns wrote in his 20-page ruling on Dec. 5. “This threat of danger was escalated when Root reached into his jacket, an action that officers reasonably interpreted as an attempt to retrieve a firearm. Given the circumstances, officers had reason to believe that Root was armed, and his behavior would lead almost anyone to believe that he was reaching for a weapon.’”
The appeal the family filed Tuesday with the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit said that, in dismissing the lawsuit, the court improperly accepted defendants’ “accounts as true, despite contradictory evidence and significant issues with their credibility.” The evidence “vigorously disputed” that Root reached into his jacket in his final moments, the appeal stated.
Root was killed after a Brigham and Women’s Hospital security guard called in a report of a suspicious man with a gun, claiming to be law enforcement, according to police at the time. The gun was later discovered to be a plastic paintball gun. Root’s family said he had struggled with mental health issues since he was a teenager.
In March 2020, the Norfolk district attorney’s office found that police were justified in shooting Root.