JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 34-year-old man with a history of mental illness is charged with aggravated battery after what police describe as a random knife attack on an employee in the checkout line early Thursday morning at the Walmart at 8808 Beach Blvd. on the Southside.
Police said the 31-year-old victim, Rogel Chan, had serious injuries and was taken to UF Health Jacksonville after the stabbing at about 1:30 a.m. He was listed in fair condition Thursday.
Police said John McFarland could be seen in surveillance video pulling the knife that was hidden in clothes that he was carrying and stabbing Chan in the head and face several times.
Officers said another man in line, witness James Parsley, heard McFarland yell, "I got you," before stabbing the man.
According to the arrest report, McFarland admitted to officers that he slashed the neck of the man next to him in line. Police said McFarland hid the hunting knife in a stack of folded men's clothes and showed them the knife used in the attack when they confronted him.
McFarland said he didn't know why he did it, but that he is schizophrenic and not taking his medication.
Parsley was inside Walmart, waiting to pay for his groceries when the incident happened.
"Typical late night at a Walmart, one lane open, very long line, and when they opened the other lane, there were probably around 15 customers there and me," Parsley said. "And maybe two more walked over to the new line, and that's when the commotion started."
Back in the other lane, Parsley said, he heard McFarland shout, then saw blood pouring out of Chan's neck.
Parsley said then, with the knife at his side, McFarland walked out.
"He appeared to be gone about two minutes later while they were still scrambling to try to get police there," Parsley said. "He walked back into the store, started walking through the store, and when he came back around towards the grocery side, that's when police saw and apprehended him."
As for Chan, "He wasn't making a sound," Parsley said. "And when they walked him out to put him in the ambulance he was walking on his own, so he seemed like he was going to be OK."
Records show McFarland has a history of violent offenses and confinements for mental health treatment. He has been found not guilty by reason of insanity in three incidents in which he was armed with a knife.
McFarland was arrested in 2004 for felony battery, in 2004 for violating probation, in 2005 for felony domestic battery, and in 2008 for assault with a dangerous weapon.
In 2005, McFarland stabbed his brother at their home. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. That was the first time he was committed to the custody of the Department of Children and Families.
In the 2008 case, McFarland got on board a city bus with a 9-inch knife, according to a police report. He walked to the back of the bus, knife in hand, sat down next to a woman and her 4-year-old son and asked the boy if he wanted to hold the knife, police said.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority called police, which apprehended McFarland without incident.
In that case, he was also found not guilty by reason of insanity.
McFarland was placed into DCF custody each time and was granted conditional release in 2010. McFarland had competency reviews in 2011 and 2012, at which time the conditional release was terminated.
In 2013, McFarland was arrested after an incident in Neptune Beach in which he made obscene remarks to a woman on the beach, again with a knife in hand. For the third time, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said that shouldn't have happened.
"He does have a record of mental illness, been arrested several times, evaluated several times and released," Smith said. "Someone like this needs a more extensive evaluation before he's released into the public. He's shown he is violent and has been violent, so they need to look at some of these type cases a bit more closely."
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