Paralyzed man suing Orange County Sheriff’s Office for violating civil rights

Attorneys say deputies used ‘unconstitutional force,’ firing 14 times as man drove away from Walmart

Paralyzed man suing Orange County Sheriff’s Office for violating civil rights
Paralyzed man suing Orange County Sheriff’s Office for violating civil rights

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Abraham Canaan said he wants economic justice for the paralysis he will endure after an Orange County deputy’s bullet hit his spine as he drove away from a Walmart parking lot on Jan. 31, 2017.

“I’m miserable the rest of my life,” the 54-year-old said. “I needed someone to calm me down, instead they shoot me.”

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With attorneys Mark O’Mara and Randy Lambert at his side, Canaan said he was experiencing a schizophrenic episode the day he walked into the Walmart Neighborhood store on Chickasaw Trail.

Police body cam video shows Canaan clutching a hunting knife although he never appears to walk toward Deputy Joe Farias-Rios or Deputy Mathew Velazquez.

Farias-Rios drew his 9 mm Glock handgun when he spotted the knife and started yelling at Canaan to “get on the ground.”

Orlando attorneys O’Mara and Lambert said both Farias-Rios and Velazquez went “too far” executing “unconstitutional force” instead of “deescalating” the situation.

“Cops have to use the gun as the absolute last resort,” O’Mara said. “That cop (Farias-Rios) had his gun out in the first 5-seconds of the interaction.”

An independent FDLE investigation concluded a bullet fragment hit Canaan in the aorta while another bullet hit him in the spine; “Each deputy fired 7 rounds,” the report concluded.

The FDLE investigation confirmed a bullet was “surgically removed” from Canaan’s spine although what caliber weapon was never reported by the FDLE or the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

The findings were sent to the state attorney’s office and deputies Farias-Rios and Velazquez were never charged.

A jury in the Ninth Judicial Circuit found Canaan guilty of resisting arrest without violence a first-degree misdemeanor.

Deputy Farias-Rios had argued that Canaan used the car as a weapon to hit him as he drove from the Walmart parking lot.

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In a deposition taken for the trial against Canaan, Farias-Rios testified he opened fire because he felt Canaan presented a danger.

“It was very quick,” Farias-Rios said to O’Mara, “I want to say the incident was very quick when I was shooting him.”

“Do you remember the shots,” O’Mara asked.

“I don’t remember how many times I shot sit, no I don’t, at the time I was trying to protect the Public,” Farias-Rios responded.

“That day I make a mistake,” Canaan said. “It (his mind) was gone with my sickness, it was gone.”

Lambert said Canaan is in constant pain and experiences excruciating spasms every few minutes. Canaan can only last 2 hours at a time in a wheelchair, he spends the rest of the time in bed.

“There’s no dollar figure that’s going to make Mr. Canaan whole again,” Lambert said. “You can’t put a dollar figure on somebody’s quality of life.”

Judge Wendy Berger has been assigned the case.

Mediation is expected later this spring.

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.