OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma City police officer who killed a deaf man should be arrested and investigations into the shooting need to be launched on the state and federal levels, the man’s family said Friday.
In a statement released through their attorney, family members of Magdiel Sanchez called for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice to open separate investigations into the shooting of their loved one.
“We are devastated by Magdiel’s death and the fact it occurred at the hands of (Oklahoma City police) even though he was not a suspect for any crime, was not breaking any laws, and was standing in his own front yard with his trusted walking stick,” the family said in the statement. “It is truly unconscionable that a man in Magdiel’s condition and circumstances would be killed by the very people who the community looks to for protection.”
The statement, released by attorneys Melvin Hall and Damario Solomon-Simmons, said Magdiel was completely deaf and also developmentally disabled. The family also accuses Oklahoma City police Chief Bill Citty of rushing to release information before an investigation is complete in an attempt to “taint the investigation in his officer’s favor.”
Police have said officers who responded to a hit-and-run accident Tuesday night encountered the 35-year-old Sanchez holding a metal pipe. Witnesses yelled “he can’t hear you” before the officers fired, but they didn’t hear them, police said.
The Oklahoma Association for the Deaf said Friday that police have reached out to the organization since the shooting, but that more needs to be done, including teaching officers to recognize the deaf and learn to visually communicate with those who can’t hear.
Association Treasurer Johnny Reininger told The Associated Press through an interpreter that not all deaf people use sign language and many use hand and arm gestures to communicate.
“At this time our deaf community feels frightened,” Reininger said. “This is a very sticky situation right now between the deaf community and the police force.”
Training programs are in place for recruits and current officers, said police Capt. Bo Mathews.
“Recruits who go through the academy … receive four hours of training on dealing with the deaf and hard of hearing,” Mathews said. “Every year we have to go through mental health training, so we receive training, not just on hearing disabilities, but mentally challenged people as well.”
One of the sessions is titled “communication with the deaf and hard of hearing,” according to Mathews.
“Chief Citty is in contact right now with the Oklahoma Association (for the Deaf) and he plans to discuss with them further about the shooting that took place,” Mathews said. “We’re always receptive to ways to improve.”
One officer fired a Taser at Sanchez and the other a gun. Sgt. Chris Barnes, the one who shot the gun, is on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Mathews, a 30-year veteran of the Police Department with five years in the homicide division and four years in internal affairs, said he doesn’t recall a similar shooting by police in the city.