Oklahoma City police officer fatally shoots deaf man as neighbors scream at them to stop

The officer has since been placed on administrative leave.

People arrive at the home of Magdiel Sanchez, the site of an officer involved shooting, in Oklahoma City. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
People arrive at the home of Magdiel Sanchez, the site of an officer involved shooting, in Oklahoma City. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

A Oklahoma City police officer gunned down a man in front of his home, despite neighbors desperately screaming at police that he was deaf and could not understand their commands to drop the metal pipe he was holding.

Lt. Matthew Lindsey arrived at Magdiel Sanchez’s home on Tuesday night looking for Sanchez’s father, who had alleged been involved in a nearby hit-and-run incident.

According to the New York TimesMr. Sanchez walked off his porch towards the officers, waving a metal pipe in his hand. Lt. Lindsey then pulled out his Taser. Sensing trouble, neighbor Julio Rayos ran towards the confrontation with his wife and 12-year-old daughter.

“Don’t kill him, he’s deaf,” the daughter reportedly yelled. “Don’t do it!” Sanchez’s neighbors also joined her and reportedly attempted to get the officer to de-escalate the situation.

At that point, Sgt. Christopher Barnes arrived as backup; Barnes, who was standing around 15 feet away from the victim, then pulled out his gun and fired at Sanchez several times. Neither officer was wearing a body camera, according to the Washington Post. Sanchez was pronounced dead at the scene.

“In those situations, very volatile situations, when you have a weapon out, you can get what they call tunnel vision or you can really lock into just the person that has the weapon that’d be the threat against you,” Oklahoma City Police Capt. Bo Matthews told reporters later.

“I don’t know exactly what officers were thinking at that point, because I was not there. But they very well could not have heard, you know, everybody yelling, everybody yelling around them,” he continued. Matthews added that Barnes had been placed on administrative leave, and that Sanchez had no criminal history.

“The guy does movements, he don’t speak, he don’t hear so mainly it’s hand movements that he does — that’s how we communicate with them,” Rayos told NewsOK. He said he believed officers had heard him shouting at them ahead of the shooting, because one turned to look at him and his daughter.

Police across the United States have a checkered history of dealing with deaf people. In 2016, a North Carolina Highway Patrolman shot and killed a deaf man in Charlotte during an “altercation” at a traffic stop. In 2014 a deaf man in Florida was shot and killed by deputies during an argument; in January that year, an elderly Oklahoma man was severely beaten by police during a traffic stop as he reached for his hearing aid — which police claimed could have been a gun.

There is no set of comprehensive statistics on deaf people’s interactions with police, but they appear fraught enough for the ACLU to release a set of guidelines on how police agencies can recognize deaf people. The guidelines also outline the need to learn to interact with them better.