The Norman Transcript

February 8, 2006

FBI probe sought in police shooting

Family files tort claim against city, officer

By Tom Blakey

Transcript Staff Writer

The Governor’s Advisory Council on Latin American and Hispanic Affairs has voted to ask for an FBI investigation into the Sept. 26 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Richard Lee Sanchez by a Norman police officer.

“The council’s recommendation was on the provision we had written permission from the family,” said Giovanni Perry, advisory council vice chair. “We’ve received that and will be sending a letter to the FBI along with a copy of the letter we sent to Police Chief Phil Cotten and his response to us.”

Perry was acting chair at the advisory council’s Jan. 30 meeting, when the board voted 8-1 to request an FBI investigation into the shooting. Council member Steven Valencia of Alva, attending his first meeting, cast the only dissenting vote.

“The dissenting vote belonged to a new member of the advisory council who said he thought we were going beyond the scope of our duty as an advisory council,” Perry said.

Norman Master Police Officer Chad Vincent shot Sanchez at the end of a police chase on I-35 near Southeast 89th Street in south Oklahoma City. A police summary released Oct. 17 revealed Vincent fired 15 shots, striking Sanchez 13 times. The shooting occurred after Sanchez escaped from the Alan J. Couch detention center with three other juveniles, allegedly committed a robbery, stole a vehicle and got into a car chase with police.

Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall ruled that Vincent used justifiable force. Kuykendall’s ruling was criticized by several human rights organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of United Latino American Citizens and the Hispanic Action Coalition.

In November, the governor’s advisory council sent a letter to Cotten, expressing “in the gravest of terms” its concerns over Vincent’s exoneration. The letter said the killing was “avoidable, unnecessary and unconscionable” and asked for a new investigation “by a disinterested third party.”

In a letter dated Dec. 8, Cotten told the council the death was a tragedy but a thorough, professional investigation already had been conducted and he didn’t see the need for another.

Meanwhile, an attorney for the Sanchez family said the family has filed a tort claim against Vincent and the City of Norman in connection with the fatal shooting and plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court.

“The tort claim asks for $125,000, the maximum liability limit amount allowed under the law,” said attorney Mark Hammons of Hammons & Associates of Oklahoma City. “We won’t be limited to that in a lawsuit, under the civil rights statutes.”

The tort claim was filed Dec. 12, and Hammons said the lawsuit would be filed 90 days from the date it was received by the city.

“We are pleased about the council’s recommendation to call for an FBI investigation into the shooting, and feel it is warranted,” he said.

Hammons called for a “thorough investigation into police policies and procedures and training methods concerning the use of deadly force.”

“The most disturbing thing is for one police officer to shoot an individual 13 times. That’s hard to reconcile with any legitimate police procedure. Normally it would take a group of police officers shooting simultaneously to see that many wounds,” he said.

Hammons also expressed concerns about how Sanchez was treated prior to the shooting.

“This was a juvenile who had been diagnosed as having (schizophrenia) and needing psychiatric treatment and medication, which he wasn’t getting.

“Surely police have to be trained on how to handle a situation like that short of killing,” Hammons said.

Perry said an independent investigation is the “best way to address the public’s and family’s concerns.”

“We’re not qualified to determine whether what the officer did was appropriate or not. That’s something best left in the hands of experts. I believe we will be satisfied with the results as long as the findings are explained and shared with the council and the public,” Perry said.

Tom Blakey