A Riverside County grand jury decided this week not to criminally charge an off-duty police officer who shot and killed an intellectually disabled man at a Corona Costco.
But questions remain about the encounter, including what led to the deadly confrontation.
Kenneth French, 32, was killed June 14 in a food-tasting line inside the warehouse store by off-duty Officer Salvador Sanchez. His parents, Russell and Paola French, were wounded in the gunfire. Sanchez’s attorneys said French knocked Sanchez to the ground for no reason, and the officer, who was holding his toddler, had no choice but to respond with lethal force.
There were hopes that surveillance video from the store would help illuminate a narrative of what happened. But the video — released when Dist. Atty. Mike Hestrin announced Wednesday that no charges would be filed, — provided no clear-cut answers.
What does the video show?
Hestrin played a portion of a low-quality surveillance video, but the images were grainy, and it was hard to decipher what was happening. The recording shows French, wearing a striped shirt, being pulled along by a male family member in a dark shirt. The two men become entangled and fall to the ground, and a woman is seen approaching them. Sanchez is barely visible in the far-left frame.
Prior to the confrontation between Sanchez and French, prosecutors said there was no previous interaction between the two.
“It was out of the blue and unexpected,” Hestrin said. “The officer was hit in the back of the head while holding a child in his hands.”
The Los Angeles Times requested a copy of the full video from inside the store in late June, citing both California public records laws and Assembly Bill 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.
It’s unclear whether there is additional video of the shooting.
What was the timeline of the shooting?
The district attorney’s analysis determined 3.8 seconds elapsed between when Sanchez was knocked to the ground and he began shooting.
A total of 10 shots were fired.
Sanchez is not seen firing his gun in the video.
Ira Salzman, one of Sanchez’s attorneys, said Wednesday the grand jury decision was a vindication.
“My client was assaulted and attacked, and what he did was excusable and reasonable under the law,” Salzman said. “It is a terrible tragedy. We have two sets of parents trying to protect their child. Sal had no choice but to use deadly force to protect his young son and himself from assault.”
What has the French family said?
Although the family has not commented yet on the most recent developments in the case, civil rights attorney Dale K. Galipo, who is representing the French family, previously acknowledged that French pushed the officer but said the exchange wasn’t a justification for the shooting.
French was normally calm, but he had had a recent change in medication that might have affected his behavior, Galipo said.
The attorney had said French was nonverbal and suffered from schizophrenia.
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 French got into a physical altercation with Sanchez, who was holding a child. Paola French has said she thinks her son pushed or shoved the officer, Galipo said. Other witnesses described Kenneth French as punching Sanchez.
At a news conference in August, the family said they begged Sanchez not to shoot.
“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.
A bullet went through her back and exited her stomach, Galipo said. The shooting left the woman in a coma for a prolonged period of time. She has had seven surgeries and is scheduled for more.
“I begged and told him not to shoot,” added Russell French. “I said, ‘We have no guns, and my son is sick.’ He still shot. I thought people don’t do that.”
Russell French 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.
What’s next in the case?
The LAPD said an administrative investigation was ongoing.
After the police investigation is complete, the statement says, Chief Michel Moore “will make a recommendation to the Board of Police Commissioners, who will determine whether Officer Sanchez’s decision to use lethal force was within department policy.”
“The department continues to express its deepest sympathies to the French family,” the statement says.