BURNABY, B.C. – Employees at a grocery store in Surrey, B.C., told a corner’s inquest Monday that they watched a man repeatedly stab himself with stolen paring knives minutes before he was shot by transit police.
Naverone Woods, 23, was shot inside the Safeway by officers on the morning of Dec. 28, 2014, and died after he was taken to hospital.
Glen Gorgas, the manager of the meat department, said he watched helplessly as the shirtless young man stabbed himself.
“It was almost like he was in a catatonic state, like he was a zombie,” he told the inquest.
“You could tell he was really hurt. I wanted to go right up to him and help, but he had two knives in his hand.”
Transit police told the man several times to drop the knives before he was shot, Gorgas said.
The Independent Investigations Office, which investigates serious cases involving police, cleared officers of any wrongdoing in May 2016. The coroner’s service holds an inquest into every police-involved death in an effort to make recommendations aimed at preventing similar fatalities.
Michael Patron, the store’s loss-prevention officer, told the coroner’s jury on the first day of testimony that he began following Woods because he seemed “out of sorts.”
Woods went directly to the back of the store, he said, and ripped open a package of knives. Woods held a knife in each hand and wandered the aisles, stabbing himself in the abdomen between 12 and 20 times before police arrived, Patron said.
“He never said anything,” he said.
The inquest also heard from an emergency room doctor who said Woods came into Surrey Memorial Hospital hours before he was shot, saying he had fallen and hurt his knee.
“Behaviourally, he was calm, co-operative and appropriate,” said Dr. Craig Murray.
Murray said Woods told him he had been drinking alcohol and using a variety of drugs earlier that week, and mentioned having a seizure earlier in the day.
He testified that he told Woods to stop using drugs, gave him painkillers and discharged him around 5 a.m.
A bus driver told the inquest that Woods appeared “quite agitated” when he ran into the closed doors of her bus at the Surrey Central transit station around 8 a.m. the same day.
“I was a bit scared. I just didn’t want to deal with it. So I closed my doors when he ran at my bus,” Christine Morrison said.
She testified that after calling security, she continued along her route. When Morrison returned to the area another driver told her there was an incident between a young man and police, and the man had been taken to hospital.
“I felt horrible because I was the one who initiated the call. And he’s the same age as my kids,” she said, crying.
Surveillance footage presented at the inquest shows a young man in a grey hoodie and orange hat walk into a convenience store close to the transit station. He paces around, gesturing emphatically.
Store employee Minseon Yong told the inquest that Woods appeared intoxicated, and said “Where’s the knife?” repeatedly.
Tracey Woods said outside the inquest that Naverone’s friends and family are hoping it brings some answers.
“We’re going to find out exactly what happened because we’ve never, ever had too much information on the events,” she said.
In her testimony, Woods described her brother-in-law as a “happy-go-lucky” guy who loved his family.
“Still to this very day there’s a huge empty spot in all of us.”