ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Everything Abrahan Canaan does is a task. Getting out of his wheelchair, taking off his sweater and shoes, it’s all exhausting and time consuming because he’s paralyzed from the waist down.
He’s been living this way since 2017, which is when he walked out of a Walmart with a buck knife and encountered Orange County deputies called to the store because employees were concerned about his behavior.
Canaan lives with schizophrenia and said he believes someone should’ve realized he just needed help that day outside of an east Orange County Walmart.
One of the deputies told the jury he fired his weapon because as he stood to the left of Canaan’s vehicle, he felt Canaan was trying to run him down.
“We need to be cognizant of the fact that law enforcement needs better training in dealing with people with mental illness,” Attorney Randy E. Lambert told Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones.
The body camera video shows what happened from the perspective of the first deputies to arrive on the scene. One of them pulls up to Canaan as he is walking out of the store with that knife in his hand.
“Get on the ground! I’m going to shoot you right now, dude,” the deputy can be heard shouting, while holding his gun.
Another deputy can be heard in the background saying, “less lethal.” Canaan can be seen walking toward his car, and he turns his head toward the deputy, gets into his car and drives off. That’s when deputies started firing.
“He was just scared because the officers said they were going to shoot him. He got in his car to leave, which was his intent to begin with, and then he got in his car and they shot him. They actually shot 14 times into the car,” co-counsel Mark O’Mara said.
A federal lawsuit alleges two deputies used unauthorized and unreasonable deadly force when one fired his handgun and another an AR-15 type rifle. Three rounds, the lawsuit claims, were fired when Canaan was approximately 200 feet away and one bullet traveled over 450 feet across a roadway through a convenience store.
These days, Canaan’s injuries prevent him from using his car. We spoke to Canaan, with his attorneys by his side, through Zoom because he’s currently staying at a nursing home to receive care.
“My lower back is too weak, so I can only spend a half an hour, 45 minutes, and then I have to lay down for hours,” Canaan said.
A sheriff’s office spokesperson said they don’t comment on pending litigation.
Canaan first shared his story with Jones in 2019 when she did an extensive report on police use of force in Central Florida. Canaan was not charged with a crime because he never threatened anyone with that knife. But he was initially arrested for what deputies believed was aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against a law enforcement officer.
One of the deputies said then that he fired his weapon because he felt Canaan was trying to run him down as he drove away. The case was dropped.
The federal lawsuit is in the early stages, but once it gets going, county attorneys may have to answer questions in federal court, where a jury may get to decide if Canaan is compensated.
“How exactly do you compensate someone for taking a decade of their life, and the rest of the life that they do have is 22 hours in a bed?” O’Mara said.
Canaan is hopeful a jury will award enough to get him out of the nursing home he’s confined to and into his own home, one capable of accommodating his special needs. The deputy was asked why he didn’t use a taser when he encountered Canaan. He said the effects of a Taser only last about five seconds and that he wasn’t close enough to him.