On Tuesday night, a deaf man, Magdiel Sanchez, was fatally shot by Oklahoma City police despite neighbors screaming that Sanchez could not hear the officer's commands, authorities said. At a press conference the next day, police spokesman Capt. Bo Mathews said he did not know why Sgt. Christopher Barnes pulled out his handgun and aimed it at Sanchez while his partner instead wielded a Taser.
Around 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Sanchez was on his front porch holding a two-foot-long metal pipe — which he reportedly used to communicate with people — when Lt. Matthew Lindsey first showed up to investigate a hit-and-run accident reported nearby. Lindsey ordered Sanchez to drop the pipe, pulled out his Taser, and called for backup, Mathews said. The officer's order did not seem to register with Sanchez — who is also nonverbal — who came off the porch toward the officer while waving the pipe.
Julio Rayos, a neighbor, told The New York Times he saw the scene unfold, . Sensing potential danger, Rayos, his wife, and his 12-year-old daughter ran toward the officer, pleading to not hurt Sanchez, who was deaf and could not understand the officer's commands. “Don’t kill him, he’s deaf,” his daughter shouted to get the officer's attention. “Don’t do it!” About six other neighbors joined the scene to stop the officer when the second officer, Barnes, arrived and immediately pulled out his handgun, Rayos said. As neighbors continued their pleas, Lindsey shot Sanchez with a Taser while Barnes fired his gun. Sanchez, who was 15 feet away from the officers, suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died in front of his home.
The killing is under investigation and Barnes has been placed on paid administrative leave; Lindsey remains on active duty. This is the fifth police-involved shooting in Oklahoma City this year, The Oklahoman reported.
In his neighborhood just south of downtown Oklahoma City, 35-year-old Sanchez was known for wandering up and down the streets during the day and running laps in a parking lot next to his home. He always carried the pipe with him to shoo away stray dogs and communicate with people, moving it around to convey what he meant, Rayos to the Times. Sanchez made the same motion at the police when he was approached, Rayos added.
Sanchez’s father, the suspected driver in the hit-and-run incident, confirmed to officers that his son was deaf. Mathews said a 911 caller who witnessed the car wreck told the police the driver had fled and that the involved pickup truck was spotted at Sanchez's address. Sanchez was not in the vehicle and had no known criminal history, Mathews verified. Rayos claimed Sanchez's father was still in his pickup, parked in the driveway of his home, during the shooting.
Neither officer at the confrontation was wearing a body camera. Speaking at the press conference about what officers can go through during chaotic events, Mathews said:
You can get tunnel vision or just get locked in on the person with the weapon. I don’t know what the officers were thinking. They very well could not have heard everyone yelling around them.
"You cannot give deaf people commands if they can’t read your lips,” local minister Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. said in an interview with an Oklahoma City news station. Jackson said the city's police department should undertake more training to prevent further deaths, especially ones like Sanchez's that he believes didn't have to happen.
“Certainly officers have to protect themselves,” Jackson told the station. “Did you try to ascertain whether he could hear you or not? Or did you figure he was obstinate and use lethal force?"
The department's homicide unit, which is investigating the shooting, will submit information about the case to the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office. From there the office will decide if the shooting was justified, Mathews said.