Coroner's jury wants better mental health support for Vancouver transit police
Naverone Woods, 23, was shot by a transit police officer in a Surrey Safeway more than two years ago
A coroner's jury is recommending that transit police in the Vancouver area work more closely with mental health providers following the death of a man who repeatedly stabbed himself and was shot by an officer at a grocery store more than two years ago.
Naverone Woods, 23, was shot by a transit police officer inside a Safeway store in Surrey, B.C., on the morning of Dec. 28, 2014. He was a member of the Gitxsan First Nation who had lived in Terrace and Hazelton in northern British Columbia.
The coroner's jury heard three days of testimony and made eight recommendations Wednesday to try and prevent similar fatalities in the future.
- Public inquest begins into death of man shot by transit police
- Inquest hears from officer who shot and killed Naverone Woods
It recommended that transit police implement a program similar to the RCMP's Car 67 initiative in Surrey, which allows Mounties and a clinical nurse specializing in mental health to work together in responding to calls involving people suffering emotional problems.
It also recommended that the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service review the circumstances of the young man's death to identify ways of preventing fatalities in similar circumstances in the future.
As well, it wants TransLink and the Coast Mountain Bus Company operating in the Vancouver area to implement training scenarios for their personnel in dealing with people who have mental health issues or are intoxicated, along with giving transit workers direct access to 911, possibly through a panic button. The inquest heard that Woods appeared agitated and had ran into the closed doors of a bus earlier on the day he died.
Woods stabbed himself inside a Safeway
The coroner's inquest began Monday and heard from witnesses inside the Safeway, the officers who were involved in the altercation and medical professionals who worked to revive Woods.
Const. Pamela McKinnon, the officer who shot Woods, testified that she and Sgt. Lee Ezra were driving to Surrey Central transit station when they heard over the police dispatch that a man had jumped over the counter of a nearby convenience store and demanded a knife. A second call said the man had gone inside a Safeway store and was stabbing himself.
The Safeway's loss-prevention officer told the inquest that Woods went directly to the back of the store and ripped open a package of knives before wandering the aisles stabbing himself between 12 and 20 times.
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McKinnon testified that when she and Ezra entered the store, Woods was bleeding profusely from his abdomen, mumbling incoherently and jogging on the spot with knives in both hands.
She said she and Ezra drew their firearms and repeatedly yelled at Woods to drop the knives, but he didn't appear to hear or react. When Woods suddenly lunged at Ezra, McKinnon said she fired twice, hitting the young man the second time.
Woods was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:25 a.m. The coroner's verdict listed the cause of death as "stab and gunshot wounds to the right arm and torso."
Coroner's counsel said methamphetamine was found in toxicology results.
The Independent Investigations Office, which investigates serious cases involving police, cleared the officers of any wrongdoing in May 2016.
McKinnon's lawyer told the inquest the police watchdog's investigation took so long because ballistics testing was delayed. The jury recommended that ballistic reports in shootings involving police should be completed within 90 days.
Family struggling to find closure
More than a dozen members of Naverone Woods' family from Northern B.C. attended the inquest. At times during testimony and when surveillance footage of Woods was shown to the court, they became emotional.
Woods' godfather, Ira Good, said he welcomed the recommendations from the jury and said he was pleased to see the jury focus on more effective training for Transit police and TransLink staff when dealing with someone struggling with mental health issues.
"I hope that everything they recommended does go through so that it doesn't happen again with anyone else — that people have to go through the pain that we have gone through," said Good.
Good said he would have liked to have seen the recommendations deal with the issue of use of force and de-escalation.
In their testimony, the two Transit Police officers who testified were questioned about their decision to use their guns, rather than something like pepper spray.
Good said the family is struggling to move on without any party found responsible for the death of his godson.
"I'm going to have to cope with it. My family members are going to have to cope with it. I don't think there will be any closure due to the fact that his death was undetermined," said Good.
"There is no justice in Naverone's death. I don't know how I'm going to go about coping with these recommendations."