OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma City police officer fatally shot a deaf man Tuesday night as the man’s neighbors screamed warnings that the man could not hear them.
Magdiel Sanchez, 35, was pronounced dead at the scene in his front yard, according to police officials. Sanchez, who authorities confirm had no criminal record, was a resident alien from Mexico who had lived in his home for about five years, a neighbor told the Oklahoman.
The neighbor, Julio Rayos, witnessed Sanchez’ death. He told the newspaper he does not believe the shooting was justified.
"I don't think they had to shoot him," Rayos said of the officers, both of whom are white.
Capt. Bo Mathews, a police department spokesman, confirmed witnesses’ statements that they tried to tell the officers that Sanchez could not hear them demanding he drop the metal pipe he held in his hand.
"The witnesses did hear the officers giving the verbal commands, but they were also yelling, 'He can't hear you,'" Mathews said.
Mathews said it is possible that the officers did not hear the witnesses’ screams.
"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," Mathews told reporters at a news conference Wednesday morning. "I don't know exactly what the 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."
Watch the entire news conference below.
Mathews said that officers were working a hit-and-run accident just after 8 p.m. Tuesday when a witness told them they could find the green truck involved in the crash at a nearby house, which turned out to be Sanchez’s home. When Lt. Matthew Lindsey arrived at the scene, Sanchez was on the porch with what was first described as a large stick.
Mathews said the item turned out to be a two-foot-long metal pipe wrapped in material, with a leather loop at the end.
“He had this in his right hand and he was holding it up,” Mathews said of Sanchez.
Mathews said when Sanchez advanced toward Lindsey, the officer, who had pulled his Taser, called for backup. That backup arrived in the form of Sgt. Christopher Barnes, who pulled his duty weapon.
Both officers yelled commands for Sanchez to drop his weapon, Mathews said.
"The witnesses also were yelling that this person, Mr. Sanchez, was deaf and could not hear," Mathews said. "The officers didn't know this at the time."
Lindsey deployed his Taser and Barnes simultaneously fired multiple shots at Sanchez, striking him as he stood about 15 feet from the officers, Mathews said. They provided medical attention until emergency medical personnel arrived, but Sanchez died in his yard.
It was later determined that Sanchez’s father was the driver involved in the hit-and-run accident. Sanchez was not in the vehicle, Mathews said.
Barnes was placed on paid administrative leave, though Lindsey remains on active duty, Mathews said. The shooting is being investigated by the department’s homicide unit, as all officer-involved slayings are.
The information from the investigation will be turned over to the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, where prosecutors will determine if the killing was justified, he said. Once that determination is made, the department will conduct an internal investigation into Barnes’ actions.
When asked if any of the officers involved were wearing body cameras, Mathews said that officers responding to the shooting wore cameras, but Lindsey and Barnes did not.
Rayos told the Oklahoman that besides being deaf, Sanchez also had developmental disabilities and was non-verbal.
"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."
Rayos said he believes Sanchez was frustrated as he tried to communicate with the officers.
NPR reported that another neighbor, Jolie Guebara, said Sanchez often carried the pipe when walking through his neighborhood. He used the pipe as protection from a number of stray dogs that roamed the area, she said.