Deaf Oklahoma City man fatally wounded by police, but let’s not overlook that he had vision
OKLAHOMA CITY – A deaf Oklahoma City man was fatally shot by police as neighbors shouted that the man could not hear officers’ commands to drop a metal pipe he was holding, police said.
While all fatal shootings are tragic, lost in the media shuffle on this one is the fact the deceased had vision, even though he was hearing impaired.
Police following up on hit and run collision
The incident occurred Tuesday evening after an accident led officers to a house where Magdiel Sanchez, 35, was outside on the porch, Oklahoma City Police Capt. Bo Mathews said at a press conference Wednesday.
Officers were acting on information from a witness who told police where they could find a green truck reportedly involved in the non-injury, hit and run collision, reported ABC News.
Police Lt. Matthew Lindsey arrived at the location identified by the witness and found a green truck that matched the description of the suspect vehicle from the hit and run.
Deaf Oklahoma City man fatally wounded
Sanchez was on the porch of the home when he advanced to the front yard holding what Mathews said was a pipe in his right hand. The pipe was about two feet in length and was wrapped in some kind of material, said Matthews. Furthermore, it had a leather loop at the end, which allowed the device to be secured to the wrist by someone using it as a weapon.
The police lieutenant asked dispatch to “hold the air” indicating he had an emergency situation as he called for backup.
Sgt. Christopher Barnes arrived on scene. After his arrival, both officers shouted to Sanchez to drop the pipe he was carrying as he proceeded forward, Mathews said. Their commands were heard by witnesses.
But, the officers didn’t hear neighbors yelling to them that Sanchez couldn’t hear them, Mathews said.
“As he started going toward these officers with a pipe in his hand, the officers discharged their weapons,” Capt. Mathews said.
Lindsey fired his Taser at the suspect, and Barnes shot his duty weapon, hitting Sanchez.
Mathews said Sanchez received medical attention after he was shot, but was pronounced dead at the scene.
When asked later by reporters, Matthews said Sanchez had the pipe in the raised position as he came at the officers.
Vision and non-verbal communication key factors
And this is a critical fact when evaluating the actions of Sanchez:
THE LIEUTENANT AND SERGEANT WERE DRESSED IN POLICE UNIFORMS and DRIVING MARKED POLICE VEHICLES, according to Capt. Matthews. So whether the suspect was deaf isn’t nearly as important as whether he could see what he was doing.
Sanchez had uniformed police officers on his property investigating a crime. They arrived in marked police units. They had weapons drawn. In all likelihood, their non-verbal communications matched their (unheard) verbal commands. So Sanchez’ status as a deaf man should have less bearing on this case than people think.
Sanchez’s father, who had reportedly been the driver of the green truck in the accident, confirmed after the shooting that his son was deaf, Mathews said. However, the son was not involved in the hit and run collision, he said.
Reporters hung up on sign language
During the press conference reporters peppered the captain with questions regarding sign language. Unless there was mental deprivation involved, and that appears possible, the non-verbal communication present should have been superior to attempts at sign language.
ABC News affiliate KOCO in Oklahoma City obtained cellphone video from a neighbor of Sanchez. The neighbor, Julio Rayos, said the footage was taken moments after the shooting. He told the station that he screamed at officers that Sanchez was deaf. Hence, Rayos said he believes Sanchez may have been confused by the encounter with police.
Rayos told The Oklahoman on Wednesday that in addition to being deaf, Sanchez was developmentally disabled and didn’t speak, communicating mainly through hand movements. As a result, he said he believes trying to communicate with the police frustrated Sanchez.
“The guy does movements,” Rayos told the newspaper. “He don’t speak, he don’t hear, mainly it is hand movements. That’s how he communicates. I believe he was frustrated trying to tell them what was going on.”
Barnes is on paid administrative leave per normal protocol while the shooting is investigated, Mathews said. Lindsey is not. Neither man was equipped with a bodycam.
(Photo: Screenshot Oklahoma City Police Facebook)