Neighbors claim they frantically tried to intervene before an Oklahoma City police officer shot a deaf man.
Magdiel Sanchez, 35, died on the front lawn of his southeast Oklahoma City home Tuesday night. Police say Sanchez was holding a 2 feet long metal pipe, described as having a leather loop for a person's wrist, when they arrived to his home around 8:15 p.m.
"Verbal commands were being given to this individual to drop the weapon and get on the ground," said Captain Bo Mathews.
Neighbors say Sanchez was deaf and used the pipe as a walking stick.
"Don't shoot," said a group of neighbors who claimed they tried to intervene before the shooting. "He can't hear you."
Oklahoma City Police say officers were following up on a hit-and-run near SE 57th and Shields when they encountered Sanchez. The suspect's truck had been spotted by witnesses at Sanchez's home but police confirmed he was not the suspect.
Police say Sgt. Christopher Barnes fired his gun and Lt. Matthew Lindsey deployed his taser. Sgt. Barnes is on paid leave pending the investigation. Neither were wearing body cameras, due to the limited availability in the department.
"I don't know why this situation so quickly escalated," JR Reininger, Oklahoma Association of the Deaf treasurer said through an ASL interpreter. "There were two police officers and one deaf man with one metal rod."
Reininger believes most first responders lack the training to deal with the disability.
"Why didn't they use another option rather than going to deadly force?" questioned Reininger.
Capt. Mathews did offer a possible explanation but can't speak specifically to the officer's mindset.
"When you have a weapon out," Capt. Mathews said, "you can get what they call tunnel vision, or you can lock into just the person that has the weapon, but they very well could not have heard everyone yelling."
Reininger also offered theories that could've contributed to Sanchez's possible confusion in the situation.
"Most of the time, when you meet a police officer, they take out a flashlight and put it in your face."
Reininger explained how that would affect him and the rest of the deaf community.
"At that point, I can’t see. I'm deaf and I have to use my eyes to communicate and to even just access the world around me."
The captain says officers do receive some training in dealing with people who have disabilities. Officers are educated on "Shoot, Don't Shoot" scenarios, but he said it's impossible to anticipate every situation an officer could encounter while on the job.
Reininger says he and the Oklahoma Association of Deaf (OAD) are willing to partner with law enforcement to address the challenges.
" We need to think about how we approach people with invisible disabilities," he said.
OAD's President Renee' Sites issued a statement following the incident:
The Oklahoma Association of the Deaf (OAD) steps forward in recognition that education is needed in our home state and across the nation between deaf and emergency responders. We are sad, but not surprised by this most recent act. Lack of education plays a vital part in many communities. It is our hope to join with police departments in Oklahoma, to provide better advocacy and training to law enforcement personnel. We want to prevent this type of situation from happening in the future. We want the members of our community to be safe. We understand that police are often in difficult situations and might not remember that all individuals can respond to verbal commands. There are many challenges between the deaf community and law enforcement. We would be willing to partner with agencies in Oklahoma to better serve our communities while breaking down barriers. OAD has discussed providing town halls in different cities in Oklahoma. This is not only for police, but all emergency responders. If you would like to set up a town hall with our deaf community, please feel free to reach out. We are here to advocate, educate and learn together. Oklahoma Association of the Deaf is here to build bridges between the two communities. We would like people to know they can reach out to us.” The mission of the Oklahoma Association of the Deaf (OAD) is to promote, protect and preserve the civil rights and quality of life of deaf and hard of hearing individuals in Oklahoma.