The Oklahoma Association for the Deaf said Friday that police have reached out since an officer fatally shot a deaf man in Oklahoma City, 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.
“I feel it is necessary to approach the police force as a deaf community and seek more training on dealing with the deaf community,” Association Treasurer Johnny Reininger told The Associated Press through an interpreter.
Reininger said Police Chief Bill Citty has reached out to the deaf community since 35-year-old Magdiel Sanchez was fatally shot on Tuesday. Bystanders yelled to officers that Sanchez was deaf and couldn’t hear their commands to drop a metal pipe he was holding, but police say the officers apparently didn’t hear or didn’t understand what was being said.
Reininger said not all deaf people use sign language and many use hand and arm gestures to communicate. He also said common phrases such as “hearing impaired” or “speech impaired” are considered inappropriate by the deaf, who prefer to be called deaf or hard of hearing.
“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.”
Melvin Hall, an attorney hired by Sanchez’s family after the shooting, has not returned phone calls seeking comment.
Police have said officers who responded to a hit-and-run accident Tuesday night encountered Sanchez holding a metal pipe in his right hand. Witnesses yelled, “He can’t hear you,” before the officers fired, but they didn’t hear them, police said.
One officer fired a Taser 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.