Manslaughter charges filed against LAPD officer who killed disabled man at Costco
The California attorney general’s office announced Monday it had filed manslaughter and assault charges against a former Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot a mentally disabled man during an off-duty confrontation at a Costco store.
Salvador Sanchez, 32, was arrested in Riverside County on suspicion of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a firearm, according to a criminal complaint made public Monday. Sanchez killed 32-year-old Kenneth French and wounded his elderly parents during a brief confrontation inside a Costco in Corona in June 2019. French, who lived with his parents, had the mental capabilities of a teenager, according to relatives.
“Where there’s reason to believe a crime has been committed, we will seek justice,” California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said in a statement. “That’s exactly what these charges are about: pursuing justice after an independent and thorough review of the evidence and the law. Ultimately, any loss of life is a tragedy and being licensed to carry a gun doesn’t mean you’re not accountable for how you use it. No matter who you are, nobody is above the law.”
Bail for Sanchez was set at $155,000, according to Riverside County jail records. It was unclear whether he would be freed Monday. He is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.
The charges reignited a case that appeared to be closed when a Riverside County grand jury declined to indict Sanchez a few months after the killing.
Calling the arrest “a political stunt” by Bonta, Sanchez’s attorney, David Winslow, Monday reiterated claims he has made since the shooting: that French assaulted Sanchez in an unprovoked attack as the off-duty officer was holding his young son and waiting in line for free food samples.
“Sal Sanchez was holding his baby when he was violently attacked and knocked to the ground along with his baby. He was also knocked unconscious momentarily. At the time of the incident, he believed he was protecting himself and his baby from being killed. The Riverside grand jury heard all the evidence in this matter and concluded there was no basis for any criminal issues,” Winslow said.
After the shooting, Sanchez told Corona police and LAPD investigators that when he fell he thought he had been shot and believed he saw French still pointing a gun at him and his son. He pulled out his own gun and fired twice.
French collapsed but still had a “concentrated, intense look in his eyes, still looking at me and my son,” Sanchez claimed to investigators.
“I remember we were face-to-face and his arm was still extended out, and I believe he still had that same gun, and I fired twice more in his direction at him,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said he did not see French’s parents as he continued firing, sending off a total of 10 rounds into the store full of shoppers. He has also said he was unaware of French’s mental disabilities at the time of the shooting.
Although Sanchez and his attorney have painted the encounter as a life-or-death struggle, police documents made public in 2019 showed the officer was at least 20 feet from French and his parents when he opened fire. Police officials have also said less than four seconds elapsed between French striking the officer and the eruption of gunfire.
The incident was captured on surveillance cameras, although footage made public by Riverside County Dist. Atty. Mike Hestrin in 2019 was grainy and offered little clarity on the case.
Last year, LAPD Chief Michel Moore and the city’s civilian Police Commission ruled Sanchez’s actions were out of policy and were weighing whether or not he should be fired.
“The decisions and actions of this officer cannot be justified and are inconsistent with the Department’s core values, training and expectations of every member of this organization,” Moore said last year.
Sanchez was fired in July 2020, an LAPD spokesman said Monday. The department referred all other inquiries to the attorney general’s office.
Russel and Paola French, who both suffered serious injuries as a result of gunshot wounds, filed suit against the city of Los Angeles and Sanchez in 2019.
Under a state law that went into effect July 1, the attorney general’s office is required to investigate all fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians in California. While Bonta launched a team to do so last month, he said his decision to charge Sanchez stemmed instead from powers granted to him by California’s Constitution, which allow him to pursue a case when the law is “not being adequately enforced in any county.”
Early Monday afternoon, Hestrin, the Riverside district attorney, said he was obligated not to prosecute Sanchez in 2019 after the grand jury declined to indict him. The attorney general’s office launched an independent review of the case shortly after Riverside officials concluded their investigation, Hestrin said.
“The District Attorney’s Office has, and will continue to, work with the Attorney General’s Office to assist them in this prosecution,” Hestrin said by email, adding his office assisted Bonta’s team in obtaining an arrest warrant against Sanchez.
Bonta’s intervention in the Sanchez case underscores a campaign promise he made to be more aggressive than his predecessors on issues of police misconduct. Former Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and his predecessor, Vice President Kamala Harris, faced criticism for what some perceived as their refusal to use their authority as the state’s top law enforcement official to hold police agencies accountable.
Becerra’s decision not to prosecute the Sacramento officers who killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed man who was shot in 2018 while holding a cellphone, sparked massive protests in the state capital. Last year, a Times investigation also raised questions about both Harris and Becerra’s review of a scandal in the Orange County sheriff’s department involving the use of jail informants. That probe resulted in no criminal charges and was scuttled in 2019.
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