Massachusetts judge rules fatal shooting of 37-year-old Brendan Reilly by officer complied with use of force policy



Photo courtesy of Middlesex District Attorney

WOBURN – Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan has announced that, following an inquest, Judge Michael Brennan has issued a Report regarding the death of 37-year-old Brendan Reilly. Reilly died after being shot by Lexington Police Officer Joseph Carruthers on February 12, 2022, in Lexington.

As stated in the report, “The goal of this inquest was to determine whether the fatal shooting of Reilly by that on-duty Lexington police officer was the result of an unlawful act or legally justified. It was also the goal of this inquest to determine whether the use of less-lethal munitions and any non-lethal injuries sustained by Reilly by Officers [Steven] Papia and [John] Frissori were the result of unlawful acts or were legally justified.”

The inquest commenced on December 14, 2022, and concluded on March 16, 2023. The Court heard sworn testimony from 36 witnesses, accepted more than one hundred-nine (109) exhibits and conducted an in-person visit to the scene. In his Report, Judge Brennan found that:

“… 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. 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. 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. 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. At that point, Reilly presented a Level 5 threat to Officer Papia. Carruthers’ use of his department issued firearm is a designated and appropriate response to such a threat. 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.”

District Attorney Ryan has accepted the findings of the Court and has subsequently filed a certificate in the Superior Court which closes this matter.

District Attorney Ryan’s Office has also forwarded the Report to the Lexington Police Department for whatever internal review and action the Department may deem appropriate.

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

Police officer-involved deaths that occurred within Middlesex County were previously investigated internally by the District Attorney’s Office. However, in December 2018, District Attorney Ryan decided, after much consideration, to replace that policy with a practice of requesting a judicial inquest in every police officer-involved death. In her view, this practice is appropriate given the particularly sensitive nature of these tragic events.

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