Oklahoma City police officer Christopher Barnes killed 35-year-old Madgiel Sanchez — who is deaf — on Tuesday night, after a brief confrontation.
According to the New York Times, Sanchez was on his front porch with a metal pipe in his hand when officers arrived at his house to inquire about a hit-and-run incident. Police and witness reports say that Sanchez was walking toward the officers while waving the pipe when both Sergeant Barnes and Lt. Matthew Lindsey commanded him to drop it. While Lindsey used his taser to try and subdue Sanchez, Barnes fired at least six shots from his service weapon.
Sanchez’s neighbors told reporters that they gave officers multiple warnings that Sanchez was deaf and couldn’t hear their commands. Julio Rayos, his wife, and his 12-year-old daughter all told the officers that their neighbor couldn’t hear their commands, along with six other neighbors during the roughly 60-second confrontation.
“They seemed like they just came to shoot him,” Rayos told the Times. “It just happened so quickly.”
The pipe wasn’t being used as a weapon, according to neighbors. Sanchez was known to carry the pipe with him while walking around the neighborhood to ward off stray dogs, and often used it to gesture to others he was communicating with in order to convey a message. Witnesses told the Times that Sanchez was waving the pipe in a similar manner toward the officers when Sgt. Barnes opened fire.
Even though Lt. Lindsey used his taser while Sgt. Barnes used his service weapon, Oklahoma City Police Captain Bo Mathews excused Barnes’ behavior, saying officers sometimes “can get tunnel vision or just get locked in on the person with the weapon” in a tense situation.
“I don’t know what the officers were thinking. They very well could not have heard everyone yelling around them,” Captain Mathews told the Times.
Sgt. Barnes has been placed on paid administrative leave, meaning he will still be on the city’s payroll pending an internal investigation. Lt. Lindsey remains active.
Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.