ORLANDO, Fla. - Abraham Canaan says he can't remember why he went to the Walmart Neighborhood Market on Chickasaw Trail in January of 2017.
"It's kind of difficult to explain. I was having a bad time in my life. In that moment I kind of lost it somehow," he told investigative reporter Daralene Jones in an exclusive interview.
Surveillance video from the store shows him walking around inside holding up a large buck knife. At the time, a spokesman with the Orange County Sheriff's Office told WFTV Canaan was stalking one of the store's employees and had caused trouble there earlier that day.
When deputies responded, they said they found him outside the store. Body camera video from one of the responding deputies began recording as he pulled into the parking lot. In that video, Canaan is calmly walking toward his car, which he left running. You can also hear the voices of law enforcement.
"Get on the ground, get on the ground," one deputy yelled.
Still, Canaan continued to walk away from the deputy, at times slightly turning toward two deputies, but never threatening them. One minute and 17 seconds after the first deputy arrived, two deputies fired into Canaan's car as he sped away.
Deputy Joe Farias-Rios was first to fire his department-issued weapon. He told investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement he feared Canaan was driving toward him in an effort to kill him.
A second deputy can also be seen in the video, holding his department-issued rifle, after the initial gunfire. He also fired into Canaan's vehicle while he was driving away. Canaan later crashed, surrounded by a swarm of Orange County deputies called to respond to the scene at the busy intersection of Chickasaw Trail and Lake Underhill Road. Body camera video recorded deputies pulling Canaan from his car, at first hesitant to approach, without knowing if he was still capable of attacking them.
Canaan was initially arrested for attempted second-degree murder against a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest without violence. The Orange-Osceola County State Attorney's office did not file the attempted second-degree murder charge recommended by deputies. Instead, they opted to pursue a case for the lesser included charges.
What deputies couldn't have known at the time they encountered Canaan is that he is schizophrenic. The National Institute of Mental Health describes schizophrenia as a 'chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and acts.' The symptoms are described as "disabling" and there is no known cure. Experts say 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with it in 2019 alone.
'There was no reason to shoot at him."
These days, Canaan leans on his adult daughter, Jihad Canaan, for care. The crash following the shooting at Walmart left him paralyzed.
"He didn't commit a crime other than resisting arrest, so there was no reason to shoot at him. It wasn't like he was threatening anyone," she told Jones, "Shooting at a moving vehicle and shooting just in a open space like that, you put everyone else at risk."
During the trial, one of the deputies testified he fired his gun because, as he stood to the left of Canaan's car, he felt Canaan was trying to run him down. The vehicle, the deputy told the jury, was the deadly weapon. The knife was not a factor in the charges.
"I have a family two kids, two grandkids that I need to go home to and I didn't think that was going to happen," Deputy Farias-Rios said.
A jury acquitted Canaan of the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against a law enforcement officer, but he was found guilty of resisting an officer without violence and sentenced to probation.
Attorney Mark O'Mara defended Canaan in court.
"Jurors default to law enforcement a great deal and he made a somewhat compelling argument. I think they were giving cover to a very bad shooting by a law enforcement officer," he told Jones.
"You have to also look at the mental health issue."
Canaan believes the deputies should have known only a mentally ill man would have behaved as he did.
"People can get sick, they should take that under consideration because clearly sometimes you don't know what you're doing..." he said, trailing off with emotion.
His daughter agrees.
"People that are armed should be trained to handle their stress a little better," she shared.
9 Investigates' reviewed a 10-year period of deadly shootings across the state. 591 officer-invovled shootings reported on average one every week between 2007 and 2017. That's about nine a year in Central Florida.
We asked the FDLE agents who review a majority of the cases about the numbers.
"You have to also look at the mental health issue," Danny Banks, the special agent in charge with FDLE told Jones, "That's the way we're going to get the numbers down."
Officers will tell you that the problem is that they don't always know when someone has a mental illness, And if they do learn about it, the information comes after the fact.
Even as we tried to get a hard number to report how many people killed by law enforcement were mentally ill -- we couldn't. We could track only a mention of mental health-related issues with about 25 out of all of these cases and that's only because there was a mention of it in media reports.
If you're interested in contacting Daralene Jones about this report, please click here.
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