US police fatally shoot deaf man despite neighbours' warnings

Magdiel Sanchez in a screenshot from an online video.
Magdiel Sanchez in a screenshot from an online video.SCREENSHOT: YOUTUBE
VIDEO: YOUTUBE/NEWSOK

CHICAGO (AFP) - Police in Oklahoma came under intense scrutiny on Thursday (Sept 21) for fatally shooting a deaf man who failed to respond to their commands, even as neighbours were alerting officers of the man's disability.

Officers went to the Oklahoma City home of Magdiel Sanchez looking for his father, who was involved in a hit-and-run car accident. They instead killed the 35-year-old who could neither hear nor speak, according to witnesses.

Neighbours said they were trying to intervene by yelling "he can't hear you," to prevent the Tuesday night shooting outside Sanchez's home, but police did not heed their warnings.

"As the police pulled up, we was all... screaming at the cops not to shoot," neighbour Julio Rayos told reporters.

Oklahoma's deaf community questioned the police use of deadly force, while the American Civil Liberties Union offered a scathing rebuke on Thursday.

"Magdiel Sanchez was shot at his own home, without having committed any crime," said the ACLU's Allie Shinn. "Merely failing to follow commands is an unacceptable defence for the use of lethal force."

During the confrontation, Sanchez was holding in his right hand a 60cm metal pipe with a leather loop. Police said they believe the object was designed to be a weapon.

Sanchez did not respond to officers' commands to drop the pipe, and Lieutenant Matthew Lindsey fired a Taser while Sergeant Christopher Barnes fired his gun. Sanchez died at the scene.

Police could not say why the officers fired different weapons, but not all members of the department have access to non-lethal Tasers.

Neither officer was outfitted with a body camera, but police interviewed multiple witnesses who were cooperating with a criminal investigation.

"It's a crying shame," one witness, who asked not to be identified, told The Oklahoman newspaper. "I believe they could have disarmed him without shooting."

Oklahoma City police chief Bill Citty said on Thursday that he would meet with groups representing the disabled, the newspaper reported.

"We have a responsibility to serve the entire public, regardless of who they are, what disability they have," the newspaper quoted Citty as saying.

A leader at the Oklahoma Association of the Deaf told TV station KWTV that police need more training.

"I don't know why this situation so quickly escalated," JR Reininger said.

"There were two police officers and one deaf man with one metal rod."