The parents of a man fatally shot in the back by an off-duty LAPD officer inside a Corona Costco, who themselves were wounded by the gunfire, expressed disgust at the Riverside County district attorney’s decision not to charge the cop, saying they were unarmed and moving a good distance away.
Paola and Russell French questioned what evidence Riverside County Dist. Atty. Mike Hestrin presented to a grand jury this month that led it to decide this week not to file any charges against Los Angeles Police Officer Salvador Sanchez. The couple said they hoped the California attorney general or federal prosecutors will investigate the June 14 killing of their 32-year-old son, Kenneth French, inside the warehouse store.
“Salvador Sanchez was clearly wrong, as he was not in imminent danger to fire 10 shots at an entire unarmed family, and that was clear, even in the grainy, poor-quality video,” said Paola French, who was hit by Sanchez’s first shot. Paola and Russell French, along with their other son, Kevin French, said the video shows they were already a considerable distance from the officer when he began shooting and could never be considered any kind of “reasonable threat.”
Overcome with emotion, Paola French said, “We are deeply disappointed in the decision.”
Russell French said the family is “extremely heartbroken. Our family has just taken another blow, and we have lost complete faith in the U.S. justice system.” He said the officer had changed his story, first saying their son had struck him, causing him to lose consciousness, then saying he believed he had been shot and was under attack.
In announcing that there would be no charges against Sanchez, the district attorney said the officer believed that the blow to the back of his head delivered by Kenneth French was a gunshot and that he was under attack. Hestrin said that the officer, holding his young son, fired his weapon within four seconds of being struck by Kenneth French, who had an intellectual disability.
Hestrin on Wednesday released a security video that showed a distant and poor-quality view of the family being hit by gunfire from an unseen Sanchez. The father is seen seemingly pushing his son away.
Dale K. Galipo, a civil lawyer for the family, said he plans to file a federal civil rights suit against the officer and the Los Angeles Police Department on behalf of the family to try to bring some accountability.
“If anyone else shot three people in the back from a distance, they would have been arrested,” Galipo said. “If it was anyone other than a police officer, it would have been prosecuted.”
Given that Sanchez fired so many shots, first hitting the parents and then Kenneth French, Galipo said, it is shocking that no charges were filed. He noted that four shots went flying into the busy store, hitting none of the family members, and said Sanchez opened fire without any consideration of the danger it created.
The attorney questioned whether there was another video from inside the Costco that captured any aspect of the shooting and whether grand jurors considered whether the shooting of Paola and Russell French was not legally justified.
Corona Police Sgt. Chad Fountain said Thursday that “the camera view the D.A. released yesterday is the only camera that covered the area where the incident occurred.”
Paola French, according to Galipo, saw her son deliver more more of a push than a strike to Sanchez. Both parents then saw the officer draw his 9-millimeter handgun and begged him not to shoot, they said, as their son screamed about his intellectual disability. Kevin French, Kenneth’s brother, said the video shows his father trying to deescalate the situation.
Galipo said the video showed there was considerable distance between the French family and Sanchez with his 18-month-old son. “You cannot even see Salvador Sanchez in the video,” he said.
Ira Salzman, one of Sanchez’s attorneys, said Wednesday that 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.”
Shortly after the shooting, Galipo revealed that Kenneth French was nonverbal and had 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 that point, without any kind of exchange, investigators say, Kenneth French struck Sanchez in the back of the head and officer fell while holding his son. Sanchez responded by drawing his gun and firing.
A bullet went through Paola French’s back and exited her stomach. She was left in a coma for a prolonged period of time and has had seven surgeries. 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. Kenneth French was hit three times in the back and once in the side, prosecutors say.