This is another installment of “Into the Archives,” a series that looks back on stories from the Belleville News-Democrat archives.
The recent shooting and killing of Magdiel Sanchez, a deaf man, in Oklahoma City by police officers who didn’t know Sanchez was deaf and could not respond to their commands to put down a metal pipe, has ignited a conversation about interactions between law enforcement officials and the hearing-impaired.
Belleville had its own experience with this.
Thirty-six years ago, Barry Biehl, who was chief of Belleville police at that time, shot Glen Mattila, a 24-year-old, unarmed deaf man from Rockford, Minn., during a drug raid at 713 East D St. in Belleville. The shooting was not fatal.
The Belleville News-Democrat reported the home on East D Street had been under surveillance for several weeks as a suspected drug distribution center of the Outlaws motorcycle club of Oklahoma City.
Mattila’s father, Mervin Mattila of Minnesota, told the BND in 1981 that Glen Mattila was only in the house because he was invited to a party and offered a free place to sleep by John Scott “Li’l Wolf” Killip, 31. Killip was a member of The Outlaws motorcycle club and wanted on a warrant.
On March 28, 1981, Terry Delaney, who was a zone commander for the Illinois Division of Criminal Investigation and who later also served as chief of Belleville police, went to the front door of the home on East D Street. Delaney announced he was a law enforcement official to the occupants inside.
Killip, without a shirt or shoes on, walked out the front door seconds later and surrendered. The BND published a picture of the half-naked Killip in handcuffs on the street alongside the Belleville Police Tactical Unit.
Killip said to the BND in a phone interview last week, “I told them there was a deaf guy with me and the chief (Biehl) was trying to break in the back door. He was trying to break a window in.”
“They just grabbed me and threw me up against the wall. About then, is when I heard the shot go off,” Killip said.
At a press conference after the raid, Delaney said he radioed other officers that Killip was in custody. Delaney told reporters he made the announcement because, “I knew the adrenalin was pumping.”
When Delaney made the call, Biehl, more Belleville police officers and a federal Drug Enforcement Agency agent had already entered through the back door of the house. Apparently unaware that Killip had surrendered, Biehl fired a warning shot into the kitchen with his shotgun.
Then, Biehl went to the bedroom and tried to open the door. It bounced back at him because Mattila was standing in front of it.
Biehl fired his 12-gauge shotgun through the door, hitting Mattila.
“The police chief shot him (Mattila) in the back,” Killip said. “There was no reason for it. I’d already surrendered myself to the FBI up front.”
Delaney testified in a report, obtained by the BND in 1991 but not released to the public at the time of the shooting, that he saw Biehl drink from a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey before the drug raid occurred.
In the report, Delaney wrote, “Killip had a reputation of being very aggressive and could possibly resist arrest and even create a possible hostage situation. Biehl had then stated that he would go to the back door and if he met with resistance, he would shoot to kill.”
Officers seized large amounts of marijuana, LSD, amphetamines and a weapon in the home during the raid.
On June 10, 1981, the BND reported Killip pleaded guilty to possession of LSD. He was sentenced to one year in prison by U.S. District Judge William Beatty.
Since that time, Killip, now 67 and living in Indiana, said, “I gave my life to Christ.” He founded “Li’l Wolf Ministries,” to serve the spiritual needs of the Outlaws.
For the last 10 years, Killip has served as the first national chaplain for the Outlaws motorcycle club.
Memories of the raid
Bruce N. Cook, the longtime Belleville attorney who represented Biehl after the shooting, spoke to the BND about his memories of the drug raid in a phone conversation last week.
Cook said, “It was really unfortunate.” He remembered Biehl didn’t know Mattila was deaf until after the raid.
Cook also said, “Barry (Biehl) didn’t aim at him. Barry didn’t see him.” According to Cook, Biehl had the gun in his hands, the interior door bounced back and the gun went off.
What Cook remembered most clearly about the shooting was meeting with Biehl and Belleville Mayor Richard Brauer a few hours after the drug raid was finished.
As far as Cook could remember, “it (the shooting) was an accident” and Biehl was very upset afterward.
Cook added, “It was an awful thing.”
In court, Russell Scott, who represented the city of Belleville, argued Biehl heard another police officer yell, “he has a gun,” and believed an armed man was behind the door before shooting Mattila. Scott, when recently contacted by the BND, declined to comment.
After the raid
Mattila was rushed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville where he had emergency surgery. The BND reported Mattila lost a kidney, spleen, part of his pancreas and colon because of the shooting.
At the press conference in 1981 after the drug raid, a spokesperson told reporters that police officers did not know Mattila was deaf until informed by emergency workers at the hospital.
Glen Mattila’s father, Mervin Mattila, told reporters in 1981, “Glen didn’t know there was a policeman behind him. He thought the officer in front of him shot him. He asked, ‘Why did he shoot me when I had my hands up?’”
The shooting was investigated by the Belleville Police, the FBI and the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office.
John Baricevic, the St. Clair County state’s attorney at that time, ruled Biehl did not act in a criminal manner when he shot Mattila. The Belleville Police and the FBI never released its reports to the public.
In civil court, Mattila sued Biehl and the city of Belleville, claiming Biehl “wrongly shot him in the back.”
In April 1991, the first civil suit ended in a mistrial. The BND reported: “...a witness improperly testified that Mattila is receiving Social Security benefits because he is deaf. Court rules prohibit testimony regarding a plaintiff’s source of income.”
The civil trial was rescheduled. In 2017, the BND discovered the documents recording the results of the second civil trial are missing from the microfilm record at the St. Clair County Courthouse.
Mattila died on Jan. 21, 2000, at age 43. Biehl died on Aug. 24, 2016, at Memorial Hospital in Belleville.
At the national level
Unlike the police shooting in Belleville where the victim survived, miscommunications between police and deaf people have had deadly consequences in the United States.
In a phone interview last week, Angela Botz, community outreach coordinator at the IMPACT Center for Independent Living in Alton and the chairwoman for the Illinois Statewide Deaf Services Coordinators, said her organization is working on making positive progress with law enforcement and their interactions with deaf persons.
Botz said, “They (the police) need to understand more about our deaf culture. They don’t understand the culture and they need to learn.”
Despite the need, Botz said police departments do not seek this education. Botz said, “We (the IMPACT Centers for Independent Living) have to reach out to them.”
In August 2000, in Detroit, a police officer shot and killed Errol Shaw, a 39-year-old deaf man, after Shaw did not hear the officer’s commands to drop a rake. Shaw’s mother, Annie Shaw, testified in court that she said: “Officer, he cannot hear you; he is deaf.” Annie Shaw yelled two more times that Errol Shaw could not hear the officer’s verbal commands. The police officer shot Shaw twice, in his chest and abdomen, killing him.
On Aug. 18, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C., a North Carolina state trooper shot and killed Daniel Harris, a 29-year-old unarmed, deaf man, after Harris was pulled over for speeding. Harris could not hear the police sirens and continued to drive. According to reports, when Harris finally stopped and exited his vehicle, he was trying to communicate through sign language with the police when they shot him.
On Sept. 19 in Oklahoma City, Okla., police officers shot and killed Magdiel Sanchez, a 35-year-old deaf man who was walking toward them, carrying a metal pipe. The police later reported they did not hear neighborhood witnesses shouting that Sanchez was deaf. Sanchez could not hear the officer’s commands to drop the pipe.
Concerning the most recent shooting of Sanchez in Oklahoma City, Botz wrote in an email to the BND that the tragedy was “totally unacceptable and can be avoided.”
She stresses educational programs for both sides — for the deaf community and police.
Botz wrote: “There should be a better model policy for law enforcement on communicating (with those) who are deaf. A proper ongoing curriculum to learn: How to behave when a police officer approaches you, why police officers behave in certain ways, the best way to tell police officers that you are deaf and how to improve relationships with your local police department.”
Botz thinks something that police officers could do right away to improve the situation is to learn basic signs.
Botz said: “If a person would point a hand to their ear, that means they’re deaf. That should be a sign, that they (the police) should recognize quickly.”
She added: “There’s a lot of services and support. At this time, they (the police) don’t use the proper communication aids or they ignore the request for interpreters. That is really wrong of police departments.”
Police training in southwestern Illinois
David Hayes, director of the Southwestern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, said in a phone interview that SILEC provides in-service training for 97 police agencies in seven counties in southwestern Illinois.
Though none of the SILEC crisis-intervention team training courses address police and deaf person interaction specifically for front-line officers, Hayes said telecommunications experts, 911 operators and crisis negotiators receive the training and the equipment necessary to do the translations for the deaf or hearing-impaired.
“We poll police agencies every year on a needs-assessment survey to make sure that we meet the training needs on all topics that come into focus from year to year,” Hayes said.
Some of the topics that agencies recently requested training classes for are how to deal with subjects who have various mental health issues, autism, returning military issues, police officers who are under stress and PTSD problems.
Hayes said: “The most important topic we’re training on is de-escalation of force. These situations so rapidly evolve and escalate. It takes time and training to make officers proficient enough to be effective at it.”
But time, Hayes said, can be an issue. “Just in the five years I’ve worked for SILEC, the amount of training that has come to the forefront for mandated training, is unbelievable. It’s taxing the police departments’ abilities to get people in the classroom and still be able to staff their patrol shifts. Police chiefs have a monumental task to balance it all out.”
Before he worked at SILEC, Hayes spent 30 years at the Alton police department and retired as its police chief.
Hayes is optimistic about the progress police have made in crisis-intervention team training courses since the 1980s.
“When I started in law enforcement in 1983, you could graduate from the police academy and never go to a single training day for the rest of your career,” Hayes said. “Now, there are so many mandated trainings that we have to attend and some of them are every year, some are every three years. That repetitive aspect of ongoing training has taken us light-years ahead of where we were then.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
At a glance
Here’s how Angela Botz, the first deaf woman to serve a second term as president of the Illinois Association of the Deaf, says communication between police and deaf community can be improved. She wrote this in a Winter 2016 issue of “Command: The Official Publication of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police” titled “Enhancing Communication: Remote Video Interpreting Connections for the Deaf”:
- Video remote interpreting — A fee-based service where an interpreter can provide immediate communication between a deaf person and police through videoconferencing.
- Videophone — A two-way video communication system that transmits and receives both audio and video signals through the Internet.
- Video relay services — A 24-hour service, paid for by the Federal Telecommunications Relay Service fund. Through the Internet, deaf or hard of hearing individuals use a videophone, PC, Mac, tablet or mobile device to contact a video relay services call center. The deaf individual signs to an interpreter who calls the hearing user on a standard phone line, facilitating conversation.
- FaceTime interpreting — Apple’s video interpreting service uses FaceTime to connect deaf or hard of hearing individuals for service for up to 30 minutes.
In 2012, Botz received the Robert M. Greenmun Memorial Award from the National Association of the Deaf, in recognition of her volunteer leadership excellence and contributions to the Illinois State Association. Botz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.