MIRAMICHI, N.B. — Video evidence and witness testimony at the inquest into the police shooting of Rodney Levi revealed Thursday that in the span of 37 seconds the New Brunswick man was Tasered three times and shot twice in the chest.
Daniel Bell of Renous, N.B., testified that on June, 12, 2020 he was visiting the home of a pastor when he was told someone had knives and police had been called. Bell said he was inside the kitchen of the house in Sunny Corner, N.B., when two RCMP officers arrived.
The witness told the inquest into the Indigenous man's death that he was not able to hear what was being said outside the closed window, but at one point he did hear an officer say, “Drop the knives.” Bell said he took out his phone to shoot video when he saw an officer pull out a stun gun.
The 37-second video shows Levi being jolted by the stun gun and dropping the knives. He then picks them up, and as he stands is shot twice, falling to the ground. There is a distinctive pop-pop sound.
Before the video was played for the inquest, many of Levi’s family members — including his 72-year-old mother Mary Ann Francis — left the room. Those who remained gasped as the video played, and some bolted from the room crying.
The shooting occurred outside the home of Brodie MacLeod, next to the Boom Road Pentecostal Church where he was pastor.
MacLeod told the inquiry that Levi, a member of his congregation, showed up at around 5 p.m. that day asking to talk. "He was erratic, pacing, not his typical self," MacLeod said. The pastor said he had seen such behaviour before and concluded Levi was under the influence of something.
He said Levi, who was from the Metepenagiag First Nation, talked about wanting to move out west but said if that wasn’t successful, he’d want to "end things." MacLeod said he invited Levi to stay for supper. He said Levi later went inside, and then he heard someone say "Knife, knife, he’s got a knife."
MacLeod's wife called police and two officers arrived a short time later and began talking with Levi, who was on the back deck. MacLeod said Levi became agitated and refused to put down the weapons, and that's when an officer fired a stun gun at Levi.
"The first Taser bounced off of him and he laughed and said, 'You’re going to have to put a bullet in me,' " MacLeod testified.
He said the second jolt had some impact, and on the third Levi dropped a knife, picked it up and lunged towards the second officer who had his gun pulled. "That’s when he was shot," MacLeod said.
Earlier Thursday, an addictions counsellor and lifelong friend of Levi testified that Levi didn't get the mental health help he needed before the incident that led to his death.
Steven Ward told the inquest that he had spoken with Levi a number of times the day he died. Ward had been working as a fisheries officer at the time because the treatment centre in nearby Eel Ground, N.B., where he was also employed, was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said Levi seemed upbeat about plans to move to Western Canada for work and to get away from the influence of drugs. An autopsy confirmed Levi, 48, had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his body at the time of the shooting.
Ward told the five-member coroner's jury he is a former addict, and he said there is a need for community-based services to help people with mental health and addiction issues.
"It's got to start with the community healing itself," he told the inquest. He said Levi was reaching out for help but had not been able to get it.
He said he believes Levi's death could have been avoided. "I don't believe Rodney should be dead," Ward said. "I believe those officers should be taught in de-escalating."
Dr. Syed Ahmed, an emergency room physician, described for the inquest efforts made to save Levi's life. He testified that paramedics reported no signs of life for 41 minutes, adding that advanced CPR was done for another 30 minutes before Levi was declared dead. He had been shot twice in the chest.
The shooting was investigated by Quebec's police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, which submitted a report to New Brunswick prosecutors in December. It determined the officers on the scene believed Levi was using force against them. Levi had been wielding two knives, and officers shot him to protect themselves and others, the probe concluded.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2021.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press