Avoidable Killings by Police Must Stop

On September 20, 2017, Oklahoma City police officers shot and killed a deaf man, Magdiel Sanchez, when he did not hear their verbal commands. Both the Oklahoma Association of the Deaf (OAD) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) condemn this horrific tragedy.

Mr. Sanchez was at home when the police arrived. Although the neighbors shouted at the police that Mr. Sanchez was deaf and could not hear them, the police officers took his life. The police failed to effectively communicate with Mr. Sanchez.  The OAD and the NAD stand with the Sanchez family as they seek justice.

Across the country, encounters between deaf people and police officers often lead to unnecessary injury or death because of miscommunication or lack of communication access.  In this past year alone, too many deaf and hard of hearing people have died at the hands of police who denied them effective communication. These tragedies must stop now.

Mr. Sanchez, and many others before him, should not have lost their lives. We ask the Oklahoma City Police Department, and other police departments in Oklahoma, to make sure such a tragedy will not happen again. The general approach by law enforcement of using lethal force when commands are not followed is dangerous for deaf and hard of hearing people, and even more so for deaf and hard of hearing people of color; they, along with deaf and hard of hearing people with disabilities, and DeafBlind people, have faced mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement. We ask for immediate system change to prevent any further loss of life due to lack of effective communication.

Law enforcement agencies must fundamentally change how they approach all individuals, including deaf and hard of hearing people. Trainings for police officers are not enough. And this change must happen quickly before any other lives are lost.

In 1978, the Oklahoma City Police failed to provide effective communication during the arrest of deaf individuals, and the OAD filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma City Police.The lawsuit led to formal training for the police on how to ensure effective communication between police officers and deaf and hard of hearing people. In January 2014, Pearl Pearson, a member of the Oklahoma deaf community, suffered serious injuries from his encounter with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol during a vehicle stop. And now, Mr. Sanchez died because Oklahoma City Police failed to understand that he was deaf. Continuing with the same training is not the answer.

“The OAD looks forward to working with the Oklahoma City Police Department and other law enforcement agencies throughout the state to develop a different and safer system of policing for everyone, including deaf and hard of hearing people,” said OAD President Renee’ Sites.  Those who are interested in working with the OAD should contact them at [email protected].

“To change the system across the country, the NAD is engaged in a public safety study to determine best practices for police officers,” said NAD President Melissa Draganac-Hawk. “Our findings will be used to develop best practice guidelines for all law enforcement agencies. Input from the community is welcome and should be sent to [email protected].”

Everyone has a right and deserves to feel safe and protected; system change is needed to make that happen.


The Oklahoma Association of the Deaf (OAD) promotes, protects and preserves the civil rights and quality of life of deaf and hard of hearing individuals in Oklahoma.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by, and for, deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States.