SURREY — The director of a police watchdog group has found a Transit Police officer not guilty of any crime when she shot a knife-wielding man dead at a Whalley grocery store in 2014 but he questions why she and her partner were not equipped with a less lethal weapon, specifically a Taser.
Naverone Woods, 23, of Hazelton B.C., was shot on Dec. 28, 2014, at the Safeway at 10355 King George Blvd. after he grabbed a knife, stabbed himself numerous times and advanced on a male and female police officer. He was pronounced dead at Royal Columbian Hospital in the operating room.
An autopsy found Woods stabbed himself 14 times and died of “stab and gunshot wounds to the right arm and torso.”
The Surrey-based Independent Investigation Office of B.C. (IIO), set up in September 2012 with the aim of keeping B.C. police officers accountable in cases involving death or serious injury, investigated the case and this week released dramatic testimony along with its conclusions.
“The use of force would appear to be reasonable given the totality of the circumstances,” Chief Civilian Director Richard Rosenthal found.
He decided the officers committed no offence but questioned why neither had a device like a Taser on hand.
“One inquiry that specifically needs to be made, in this case, is why neither of the involved officers were equipped with a less lethal force option which may have reduced the risk of the need to use deadly force in this instance,” he said, “specifically to include a conducted energy weapon.”
At issue was whether Wood’s death resulted from an unreasonable or excessive use of force. If so, the officers could have been charged with murder, manslaughter, or criminal negligence causing death.
The IIO interviewed more than 20 witnesses, including the officers themselves, and also reviewed surveillance footage.
Before Naverone entered the grocery store, a bus driver said, she closed her doors after a distraught man started yelling. She told the IIO he threw himself at the door, screaming.
Police received 911 calls after Naverone entered the store, found a package of paring knives in an aisle and pulled them out.
The IIO heard a security guard told the man, who by now had no shirt on and had a knife in each hand, “OK, calm down.Don’t do this. Put down your knife. Don’t do this. Calm down. Nothing will happen to you.”
The distraught man responded “I didn’t do this. I never did this. I want to die,” the IIO heard, before
stabbing himself twice in the gut with both knives and falling face down.
Investigators were told the man stood back up, walked to a different part of the store, and the two Transit Police officers arrived and repeatedly ordered him to put the knives down.
One witness said the officers, whose names have not been released, pulled their guns and told him “We’ll shoot, we’ll shoot you. Put your knife down.”
The IIO heard the distraught man moved toward the officers, a shot was fired, the man took two or three more steps, the female officer told him, “Put down your knife. Don’t move, don’t move ahead,” and then a second shot was fired.
With knife still in left hand, he fell groaning in pain.
A store employee told the IIO, “They fired two shots. I think one missed and one hit him. He went down. He got up and as he was getting up, he said. ‘Please kill me. Please kill me.’ And he lunged at them again and then there was another, it was either one or two more shots, then he went down again.”
Another employee said Naverone was “entirely focussed” on the female officer and did not look at the male officer at all.
“I saw her pull out her weapon, told him repeatedly, drop the knife, drop the knife. He wouldn’t listen. She shot and I was watching to see where he got hit and I didn’t, I didn’t see anything. I didn’t see him get hit. I assumed there was blanks in the gun and they were trying to scare him…he came towards her and she shot again and as soon as she shot again and hit him he went to the ground and as soon as he went to the ground I left.”
The female officer told the IIO she fired both shots but her partner said he also “was prepared to shoot.”
“There was no other level of force that would have, in my personal opinion, that I had on me that would have been able to deal with him in this situation at that time,” he said. “The only option that I had was my sidearm because of his knives, and the weapons and the bleeding and the cutting of himself and hurting himself and trying to hurt other people. There was no other level of force that I could have used.”
The female officer said Naverone had two short kitchen knives in his hands.
“He was covered in blood. He was bug-eyed and sweating profusely. I believe he was very high on drugs, or in a severe episode of mental illness, or both,” she told the IIO.
“He assumed a fighting stance.”
‘We could not simply retreat and leave the male to himself because he could easily and quickly have attacked one of the civilians or us,” she said.
The female officer said Naverone advanced on her partner. “I did not believe that any force short of a gunshot would be fast enough and decisive enough to stop the male from stabbing (the witness officer).
“I fired one round from my service pistol. This did not stop the male. He put his hands up around his head, but continued to advance on (the witness officer). I shot a second round at the male. This time he cried out or moaned, and collapsed onto the floor.”