Court rules 2022 fatal officer-involved shooting of armed man in Lexington was justified, DA says

WOBURN — A judge has ruled that a fatal officer-involved shooting of an armed man who was threatening to kill officers in Lexington in 2022 was justified, the district attorney said Saturday.

Brendan Reilly, 37, died after being shot by Lexington Police Officer Joseph Carruthers on Feb. 12, 2022 in Lexington, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said in a statement.

On that day, Reilly presented “a Level 5 threat” to police, and Carruthers’ use of his department-issued firearm “is a designated and appropriate response to such a threat,” Judge Michael Brennan wrote in a report issued following an inquest.

“This Court finds that Carruthers fully complied with the use of force policy and the totality of the circumstances of February 12, 2022 support Carruthers’ decision to use deadly force,” Brennan wrote.

The judicial inquest began on Dec. 14, 2022 and concluded on March 16, 2023. The court heard sworn testimony from 36 witnesses, accepted more than 109 exhibits and conducted an in-person visit to the scene, Ryan said. 

An inquest is a judicial proceeding in which the court investigates the circumstances surrounding a death and determines whether the death was the result of an unlawful act.

The fatal shooting of Reilly occurred after Lexington Police Officers Steven Papia and John Frissori had tried other, less-lethal measures in an attempt to stop Reilly, who was armed with a knife and continuing to threaten and charge at officers, Brennan wrote.

“… When Reilly failed to comply with officers’ commands, began threatening to kill officers while armed with a knife (at times swinging the knife in their direction), and ran into Hancock Street, he presented a Level 4 threat. A reasonable police officer would believe that their own safety as well as the safety of any member of the public who might be nearby was at risk,” Brennan wrote in his report. “Officers were justified in deploying and using “stand-off weapons, like the less-lethal Remington 870 to attempt to make Reilly comply with their orders and to protect themselves and the many members of public in the immediate area.”

“A reasonable officer’s perception of Reilly would be that his continued assaultive and threatening behavior was potentially harmful to the officers and others and that failure to stop or control Reilly placed the officers and others at substantial risk of bodily harm,” Brennan wrote. “The Court finds that the use of force policy and the totality of the circumstances of February 12, 2022, support Frisson and Papia’s use of less-lethal force to attempt to resolve an extremely volatile situation with the lowest amount of force necessary at the time.”

“When Papia slipped and fell, Reilly sprang to his feet and charged at Papia with his knife raised and with what a reasonable person would believe was an intention to stab and potentially kill Papia,” Brennan wrote. “The Court finds that, absent Officer Carruthers’ use of lethal force, Papia was at grave risk of serious injury or death and that the use of lethal force was necessary to defend Officer Papia.”

Ryan said she has accepted the court’s findings and has subsequently filed a certificate in the Superior Court, which closes this matter. Ryan’s office has also forwarded the report to the Lexington Police Department “for whatever internal review and action the Department may deem appropriate,” Ryan said.

“The Reilly family remains in our thoughts as they continue to mourn Brendan,” Ryan said.

Police officer-involved deaths that occurred within Middlesex County were previously investigated internally by the district attorney’s office.  

In December 2018, Ryan replaced that policy with a practice of requesting a judicial inquest in every police officer-involved death.  

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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