Louisville, Kentucky, 57- year- old Darnell Wicker was shot and killed on Aug. 8th by police just moments after arriving at his girlfriend’s apartment complex. Ten days later in North Carolina, 29-year-old Daniel Harris was shot and killed by a state trooper after exiting his car during a traffic stop. This past Tuesday, the 22nd of September, Miguel Sanchez was shot and killed by an Oklahoma City Police officer right outside his own home. In all three of these cases, the victims were all either hard of hearing or deaf, bringing to light a new question and concern- contact with law enforcement for the hearing impaired can lead to injury or death.
CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, Howard Rosenblum stated “Deaf and hard of hearing individuals have always been concerned of interacting with law enforcement officers.” With 13% of the US population (38,000,000 people) being either deaf or hard of hearing why is there no training of law enforcement to deal with these individuals? According to Rosenblum, law enforcement either refuses or fails to train their officers properly. Sanchez was shot and killed about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday after police were in the area investigating a hit-and-run accident came to his home.
According to witnesses, the driver of the suspected hit-and-run accident fled the scene of the accident and then parked his truck in front of Sanchez’s home about a half a block from the accident scene. Lt. Mattew Lindsey was the first to arrive on the scene, the 13-year veteran of the OKC police department reported seeing Sanchez on the porch with a two-foot piece of pipe in his hand. Lindsey called for backup and Sgt. Christopher Barnes, an 8-year veteran of the force arrived on the scene soon after getting the call.
Although neighbors had gathered near the Sanchez home and were yelling at the two officers in an effort to inform them of the fact that Sanchez was deaf, a police spokesman, Capt. Bo Mathews stated that it was unknown whether or not that the two offices actually heard the neighbors screaming. Not only was Sanchez deaf, he was mentally challenged as well according to a family friend of the Sanchez’s.
According to police officials, Sanchez was ordered to drop the pipe by Lindsey, who was armed with a taser, and Barnes, who was armed with a handgun. Sanchez began to walk toward the officers and according to witnesses was shot by both officers from 15 feet away. According to witnesses, both officers fired at the same time rather than first using the taser. Police officials have refused to release the details about the shooting including how many times Sanchez was actually shot.
At a press conference held the Thursday following the shooting, Police Chief Bill Citty stated that Lt. Lindsey’s taser gun failed to make proper contact with Sanchez’s body thus rendering the weapon ineffective. Chief Citty went on and warned that although alleged witness reports had stated that the officers fired their weapons at the same time, citizens should not take such statements as fact. “They were both fired probably close together at least, Citty said “Which one fired first I don’t know at this point. We may never know…”.
Sanchez soon died a short time later on the scene. Police have said that it was Sanchez’s father that was involved in the hit and run accident. The elder Sanchez was not arrested although the case remains under review according to Chief Citty.
The Sanchez family has retained attorney Melvin Hall, who also was among the team of attorneys who represented the family of Terence Crutcher, a Tulsa black man that was shot by a white police officer last year during a traffic stop. Thursday the ACLU of Oklahoma released a statement saying it was “incredibly saddened and disturbed,” by the shooting of Sanchez. The ACLU continued by stating “Merely failing to follow commands is an unacceptable defense for the use of lethal force,” the statement said. “We have allowed a dangerous culture of “us vs. them” to fester among our law enforcement professionals. This killing speaks directly to a warrior culture in which the very people police officers are sworn to protect come to be viewed as the enemy. This culture assumes that an officer’s command, regardless of validity, is more important and more valuable than a human life.”
During Thursday’s news conference held at police headquarters, Chief Citty expressed his sympathy for the family and stated that he had made contact with the Oklahoma Association for the Deaf to discuss the circumstances of Tuesday’s shooting. “I know they want to develop a task force and I advised them that I was more than willing to work with them and meet with them and any suggestions that they have. Anything that we can do to create the best possible outcome, we’ll do that” Citty stated.
According to Citty, new recruits go through four hours of training on how to interact with the deaf and hard of hearing. In 2013 officers received mandatory training on hot to approach and handle situations that involve non-English speaking, deaf and hard of hearing people. That training included the use of hand signals. Citty stated that the department had encountered situations when a deaf or hard of hearing people were unable to hear sirens and officers are trained to deal with those special situations. Chief Citty continued by saying “If you can’t hear or you can’t speak and you ascertain that, then obviously, officers have to be more patient and get interpreters out and provide them with interpreters because they have a right to know what they’re being arrested for or questioned, by having an interpreter.” The situation concerning Sanchez did not allow for these options according to Chief Citty. “When officers are approached with a weapon, there’s not much time to be patient. These situations are dynamic, it’s emotional” Citty stated.
Howard Rosenblum with the Oklahoma Association of the Deaf stated his organization is currently working with law enforcement agencies in an effort to develop practices and policies that would better the interactions between law enforcement, the deaf and hard of hearing.
It is a traumatic experience to lose a loved one, and it can be troubling to lose them due to the actions of another. Wrongful death is the death of someone, caused by the willful or negligent act of another individual. Survivors of the deceased can file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator on behalf of the victim. However, it has to be proven that the wrongful death could have been avoided in order to win this type of claim.