A Riverside County Superior Court judge has blocked the release of surveillance video that officials say may help shed light on an altercation that prompted an off-duty LAPD officer to open fire inside a Costco store in Corona in June.
Kenneth French, 32, a Riverside man with an intellectual disability, was killed in the shooting in a food-tasting line in June. His parents, Russell and Paola French, were wounded.
The Times requested a copy of surveillance video from inside the store in late June, citing both California public records laws and AB 748, which requires government agencies to produce video and audio recordings of critical incidents involving police that result in death or great bodily injury. That request was denied by the city and The Times appealed the decision.
Then, in response, prosecutors last month sought a court order that would prevent the release of video from inside the store, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County district attorney’s office.
“We do not want to taint the recollection of witnesses as to what happened that day by making the video public,” Hall said.
Judge Eric Keen wrote in a ruling on July 22 that releasing the video would substantially interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation into the case. The order barred Corona and Los Angeles police from releasing the video for one year from the date of the shooting.
“Additionally, the court finds that due to the graphic nature of the video and the significant public attention on the shooting, the release of the video prior to the conclusion of the criminal investigation reasonably could result in harm to the suspect, who is out of custody, and could interfere with the integrity of the jury trial process in any potential subsequent prosecution,” Keen wrote in his decision.
Keen added that the video may be released at the conclusion of the criminal investigation if no charges are filed or at the conclusion of a criminal case if prosecutors decide to pursue one.
Prosecutors have not made a decision about whether the officer, identified as Salvador Sanchez, who works as a patrol officer in the LAPD’s Southwest Division, will face criminal charges related to the June 14 incident.
Corona police are still investigating and the LAPD is in the early stages of its own investigation into the officer’s use of force. The latter probe could take up to a year to complete, said LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein.
Police have said Sanchez was off-duty inside the Costco with his young son the night of the shooting. Russell and Paola French were also inside the store wandering the aisles with their adult son, Kenneth, who family members say suffered from an intellectual disability and needed their care.
The families came together in a food-sample line when Kenneth French got into an altercation with the officer. In the weeks following the deadly encounter, sharply different accounts of the altercation emerged.
Even months later, much of what happened inside the Costco remains unknown. Members of the French family have said they believe the video would shed light on the situation.
The officer’s attorney, David Winslow, said his client was getting a sample when he was attacked and briefly knocked out by French.
“He was shopping with his wife and 1½-year-old at Costco. His son was in his arms, and he was feeding his son some samples when, within seconds, he was on the ground and woke up from being unconscious and he was fighting for his life,” Winslow said.
Corona police said the assault, which was captured on Costco security cameras, was unprovoked and led the officer to fire his 9-millimeter pistol.
Civil rights attorney Dale K. Galipo, who is representing the French family, acknowledged that Kenneth French pushed the officer, but said the exchange wasn’t a justification for the shooting.
Before the officer fired his gun, there was a gap in time when he declared he was a police officer and French’s father stepped between the two men.
French was normally calm, but he had had a recent change in medication that might have affected his behavior, Galipo said.
The attorney has said French was “nonverbal” and suffered from schizophrenia.
Staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.