District Attorney Demonstrates Unacceptable Disregard for Rights of Deaf People

The Oklahoma Association of the Deaf (OAD) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) express grave concerns and serious disappointment with Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater’s December 8, 2017 press conference report on the shooting of Magdiel Sanchez by the Oklahoma City Police Department. District Attorney Prater has demonstrated utter disregard for the communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and has completely dismissed the importance of ensuring effective communication during all interactions between law enforcement officers and the community.

On the night of September 20, 2017, two officers of the Oklahoma City Police Department showed up at the home of Magdiel Sanchez, a deaf man who has a developmental disability. Although Magdiel had not committed any crime, one of the two officers fired his gun five times at him and killed him. David Prater, as the District Attorney for Oklahoma County, had been reviewing the shooting incident to determine whether the police officers’ conduct were lawful or justified.

Despite the fact that the shooting involved a deaf man and has caused great fear within the Oklahoma Deaf Community about encounters with law enforcement, District Attorney David Prater held a press conference on December 8, 2017 without a professional sign language interpreter and/or any form of captioning to ensure that his report was accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. Consequently, members of the Deaf Community were unable to immediately understand and access District Attorney Prater’s report, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 — federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability.

During his report, District Attorney David Prater stated that he reviewed the evidence and determined that the shootings were justified. However, his findings are tainted by his comments regarding deaf people. District Attorney Prater indicated that the fact that Magdiel was “hearing impaired” was “irrelevant in my mind as to why the shooting occurred.” He also stated that “you do not need to hear to know what these officers are saying to you” and claimed that the police officers’ uniforms and actions are enough for anyone to understand what they want. He also reported that the officers learned from the neighbors that Magdiel could not hear them, and instead of realizing that he is deaf, they tried to communicate by speaking in Spanish as well as English. These comments reflect a failure of the District Attorney to recognize that communication is critical and essential under such life-threatening conditions, yet he was dismissive of how a deaf person would understand the instructions of police officers.

The OAD and the NAD express tremendous misgivings that Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is disregarding the high level of risks to deaf and hard of hearing individuals who encounter law enforcement, and has failed to account for these factors in his findings and report on the death of Magdiel Sanchez. We reiterate the request of the Sanchez family that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice open an investigation in the needless shooting of Magdiel Sanchez, and to ensure that the Oklahoma City Police Department and the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office revamp its policies to ensure all deaf and hard of hearing individuals are treated with respect and effective communication is provided with them at all times including in law enforcement actions. Until then, Oklahoma law enforcement is putting deaf and hard of hearing residents in grave danger.