Special to the Gazette
Everything went wrong and in public for 41-year old Jamaica Plain native Juston Root almost a year ago, and it cost him his life.
The mentally ill man died in a hail of daylight gunfire from six police officers that left 26 bullets in his already wounded body and 31 at the scene—a mulched area near a busy intersection on Route 9 in Brookline on Feb. 7.
A former Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who ran up to the bleeding man on the side of the road was told to get out of the way by an officer. Then five Boston Police Officers and one Massachusetts State Trooper proceeded to shoot him from close range. One officer is said to have kicked him first.
The death that day of the former JP resident was the result of horrible mistakes. Nothing similar should happen again.
“My brother was a very creative person. He helped other people. He was working on a vegan cookbook. He was a lovely person who died unnecessarily,” his sister Jen Root Bannon said in a recent interview..
“Our family and the public deserve to know” all the facts surrounding the event, she said. “We want the truth and accountability.”
She and her family and their thousands of supporters are right to ask for both.
The family and thousands of others have called on Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey to initiate an independent investigation of the entire event by someone not tied to police. A petition asking for the investigation at www.change.org/JusticeforJuston had gotten more than 6,600 signatures at this writing and is open to more. The family has also created a website, JustinRoot.com.
“My brother was a very creative person. He helped other people. He was working on a vegan cookbook. He was a lovely person who died unnecessarily,” Root Bannon said.
Last month, a federal judge declined to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit the Root family has brought against the City of Boston. Filing a federal civil rights suit “seems to be only way families can get justice,” his sister said.
Pieces of information about the tragic events involving two outdoor locations in two different counties and dozens of people came out gradually and haphazardly over the next hours, days, weeks and are still being coming out.
For example, at first it was assumed that a valet at Brigham and Women’s who was shot and wounded during the initial fracas was shot by Root. It was discovered later that the bullet came from a police officer’s gun.
A Boston Police Department spokesperson said the department has a policy of not commenting on cases where lawsuits are pending.
According the Root family and based on media and other reports, Root, in a mental health crisis that morning, was on his way to see his counselor at Mass Mental Health Center near Brigham and Women’s Hospital campus in the Longwood Medical Area. He had a clear plastic paintball gun in his waistband. Someone called the Boston Police with the report of a person with a gun.
After officers arrived, Root was shot in the leg by one of them, staggered to his car and drove away. After a car chase, Root’s Chevy Volt crashed on Route 9 at Hammond Street. He staggered out and dropped to the ground, covered in blood. The former EMT rushed up to Root where he was slouched.
She moved away when an officer told her to. An officer appeared to kick Root. Then six officers riddled him with gunshots.
No city official offered condolences to the family in the weeks after,” Root Bannon said.
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins has yet to issue a report about the incident that began in Boston and involved five Boston Police officers.
District Attorney of Norfolk County Michael Morrisey came out with his report about the shooting in Brookline in less than a month, exonerating all six officers. Root Bannon said the report is missing important information.
Root Bannon also said she thought police should have had records that her brother was mentally ill because of previous interactions. Among other things, she and her family are wondering about, she said, is why it seems no one entered his license plate number into their cruiser computers and learned that.
At the end of our interview Root Bannon said she wants people to know, “I have nothing against the police. I think this is an opportunity to have a bigger conversation, to talk about what police could have done differently.”
Juston Root was born on Alveston Street, where his family lived, and he spent his childhood in JP. All of them have moved out of Boston since then. Though he lived in Mattapan as an adult, Juston Root still hung out in JP a lot over the years, according to his friends and sister. His father, Evan Root, has played an active role in seeking justice for Juston.
His mother, Barbara Root, whom many people remember from when she sold Balinese fabrics and artifacts at a table next to JP Licks near the table of Belle Pronman, for whom the park there is named.
A Commemoration Event for Juston Root’s life will be held on Feb. 7, the one-year anniversary of his death.
It’s high time a complete, objective investigation into all the circumstances and events surrounding his death begins and a thorough report issued so everyone can learn from the tragedy and, as Root Bannon put it, “make sure no other family has to go through this again.”