At an emotional news conference Monday, the parents of a man with schizophrenia who was shot and killed by an off-duty Los Angeles police officer at a Costco in Corona described begging the officer not to open fire after he pulled out his gun and identified himself as police.
Kenneth French, 32, was killed in the shooting on June 14. His parents, Paola and Russell French, were severely injured.
“I was pleading for our son and our lives but was still shot in the back. What threat did I pose to him?” Paola French said.
The bullet went through her back and exited her stomach, said civil rights attorney Dale K. Galipo, who is representing the family. The shooting left her in a coma for a prolonged period of time. She has had seven surgeries and is scheduled for more.
“After hearing Officer [Salvador] Sanchez identify himself as a police officer, I begged and told him not to shoot,” Russell French said. “I said, ‘We have no guns, and my son is sick.’ He still shot. I thought people don’t do that.”
Russell was shot in the abdomen and also has had multiple surgeries, including one to remove his kidney, according to a legal claim filed on behalf of the family. Both he and his wife now require extensive home healthcare, the claim states.
The claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, names the city of Los Angeles, the LAPD and the officer, Salvador Sanchez.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles city attorney’s office said the agency would review the claim and had no further comment. A spokesman for the LAPD declined to comment.
Two different accounts of the shooting have emerged.
Galipo provided a detailed description of what the family believes happened inside the store. They have not been able to see surveillance video of the incident, but Galipo said he has spoken to people who have seen it. He has also seen a cellphone video that appears to have been taken in the aftermath of the shooting, Galipo said.
The family was at Costco shopping for Father’s Day and had been there for about 30 or 40 minutes when they stopped at a stand for sausage samples, Galipo said. At some point, Kenneth got into a physical altercation with the police officer, who was holding a child. Paola French has said she believes that Kenneth French pushed or shoved the officer, Galipo said. Other witnesses have described Kenneth punching the officer.
Galipo said he did not believe the officer lost consciousness, though some witnesses have said he may have been knocked to the ground.
“We believe he was not knocked unconscious,” Galipo said. “All of his actions, putting the baby down … saying he’s a police officer [are] not the actions of someone who was knocked unconscious.”
When the man identified himself as a police officer, the parents began pleading with him not to shoot.
“Despite their pleas for him not to shoot, he fired multiple rounds,” Galipo said.
Kenneth French’s schizophrenia left him unable to verbally communicate, and his injuries included shots to his back, Galipo said.
Though Sanchez was off-duty, the claim contends that he was acting as an LAPD officer because he identified himself as an officer just before the shooting and discharged the shots from his department-issued weapon. The French family posed no threat of serious injury or death to the officer, and he failed to warn them before using deadly force, the claim states.
“I would say there’s evidence to support murder in this case,” Galipo said.
An attorney for Sanchez said his client was attacked from behind and acted under a “reasonable belief” that he was being assaulted and that his life was at risk.
“This wasn’t a little push — this was a severe assault,” Ira Salzman said Monday. “My client suffered a concussion.”
He said Sanchez was also acting out of fear for his own young son, whom he was holding at the time of the altercation.
“It’s just a terrible tragedy that we have two sets of well-meaning, good parents who were trying to help their children,” Salzman said. “My client acted in self-defense and this was a sad, tragic result, but he did not commit any crime, nor did he do anything to merit an award of civil damage.”
The Riverside County district attorney’s office, which received the case from Corona police in late June, is reviewing whether to criminally charge the officer. The LAPD is conducting an administrative review.
Though parts of the incident were captured by Costco security cameras, the videos have not been made public.
After The Times requested a copy of the surveillance footage, prosecutors sought a court order to prevent its release, and a judge complied. Police are now barred from releasing the footage for one year from the date of the shooting.
Kenneth French’s funeral, which was postponed until both his parents were released from the hospital, is scheduled for Friday.