PALM HARBOR — Last fall, authorities said, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper fired his gun nine times at a man suspected of stealing two bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches from a Palm Harbor gas station.
None of the bullets struck Magdi Kanaan, but Trooper Timothy E. Nichols will begin a one-week suspension without pay today.
"You deployed more force than necessary by shooting at a fleeing suspect," agency director John T. Czernis wrote in a Sept. 7 memo to Nichols.
The Oct. 10 shooting and subsequent car chase were captured on the trooper's dashboard camera. The Highway Patrol on Thursday released that footage and a narrative of the events that led to the shots being fired.
The 71/2-minute video opens with Nichols, a nine-year veteran of the department, driving at a high speed through a retirement center parking lot.
He'd just come from the Hess gas station on Nebraska Avenue, where a cashier reported that Kanaan had stolen sandwiches and fled.
Nichols caught up with the 22-year-old Palm Harbor man in the retirement center. Kanaan had his black sport utility vehicle in reverse.
Nichols stepped out of his patrol car and stood at its side. The SUV crept closer to the cruiser.
"He just backed into my car," Nichols yelled.
He pointed his department-issued Beretta toward the SUV and pumped nine bullets in its direction as Kanaan sped away.
Thursday, Highway Patrol spokesman Mark Welch said that he did not know where any of the bullets landed.
Nichols told officials that he that Kanaan was trying to run him over. Highway Patrol internal affairs investigators determined Kanaan was simply trying to park.
"Your recollection of the events contradicts the evidence on the videotape from your patrol car," Czernis wrote. "After reviewing the video tape of the incident, you agreed that the events did not take place exactly as you had remembered them. You stated that you felt justified in firing your weapon (and) you should not have fired as many rounds as you did."
Welch said Nichols shouldn't have fired at all and his actions were a "violation of the use of control policy."
After the shots were fired, Nichols hopped back in his car and chased Kanaan through neighborhood streets. The pursuit ended when one of Kanaan's tires gave way. Nichols arrested Kanaan on charges of theft, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, and fleeing and eluding.
Welch said the Highway Patrol has not offered any kind of concessions to Kanaan.
"As far as we know, he has not filed a claim with our agency for reimbursement," he said. "Mr. Kanaan would have to submit a claim."
According to Bay News 9, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office reviewed the tape and dismissed the charges against Kanaan. It was that office that suggested the Highway Patrol investigate Nichols. Highway Patrol internal affairs closed that investigation last week.
Kanaan, who has been in and out of the Pinellas County Jail since July 2006, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Neither could Nichols, whose 40-hour suspension ends Sept. 23.
"The agency feels that that's a fair and just disciplinary action for the circumstances surrounding the incident that Trooper Nichols was involved in," Welch said.
This isn't the first time that the Highway Patrol has had to discipline Nichols.
Since he started work there on Sept. 10, 2001, he has been orally reprimanded, counseled or cited at least eight times. In one incident, Nichols responded to a crash and struck the rear corner of the crashed vehicle. In another, he failed to put his car in reverse while making a traffic stop and struck that violator's vehicle.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4167.