The attorney for an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot a man described by his family as having an intellectual disability and two others at a Costco store in Corona said he was defending himself and 1-year-old child.
The attorney, David Winslow, said the officer was getting a food sample for his son when he was attacked and briefly knocked out.
“He was shopping with his wife and 1½-year-old at Costco. His son was 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 in an interview with The Times.
Los Angeles police investigators are reviewing whether the officer violated any department policies in the altercation, officials said Monday.
Authorities said the assault, which was captured on Costco security cameras, was unprovoked and led the officer to fire his weapon, killing Kenneth French, 32, and wounding two of French’s family members, whom a relative identified as French’s parents.
The officer did not know of the man’s disability at the time, according to a law enforcement source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
French lived with his parents and had the mental capacity of a teenager, his cousin Rick Shureih said in a phone interview.
“He was a gentle giant,” Shureih said. “He’s never been violent in the past. He’s always been very cooperative and kept to himself.”
Winslow said he was not authorized to speak in more detail about the case.
The department has not publicly named the officer. Authorities did not arrest him, based on information provided to police by witnesses. The Riverside County district attorney will ultimately decide whether the officer will face charges.
Experts say it’s fairly common for officers to carry their firearms in public while off-duty. Off-duty police, like private citizens with firearm permits in California, are legally allowed to fire their weapon in self-defense in the event of an imminent attack and if there is no ability to retreat from the situation, said Jody Armour, a law professor at USC.
“The real question will be whether a reasonable person in the situation of the shooter would have believed he was under attack, threatened with death or serious bodily injury,” he said. “The shooter has to feel like they’re about to be attacked and there was no less drastic alternative.”
The fact that the officer’s child was in his arms at the time and that the people injured were not armed will be major factors in determining whether the level of force was justified, said Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County sheriff’s deputy and use-of-force advisor to the California Assn. of Police Training Officers.
“Even when an officer is off duty, the understanding by law enforcement and prosecuting authorities is that the officer knows what they are doing,” Obayashi said. “Just because you’re off duty doesn’t mean your training and experience goes away.”
Obayashi said the officer’s justification for the shooting might be that he could not protect his 1-year-old without using deadly force.
“This threat had to have been so immediate and so severe that the officer believed he had to use deadly force,” Obayashi said.
The officer suffered minor injuries in the confrontation and was taken to a hospital and later discharged. His gun was the only weapon involved in the incident.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League — the union that represents rank-and-file officers in the department — declined to comment on the shooting.
The administrative investigation is standard protocol whenever an officer fires his or her gun. The five-person Police Commission ultimately decides whether officers are justified in opening fire and whether they followed department rules before pulling the trigger.
In 2018, the Police Commission determined that Officer Kevin Ferguson violated the department’s rules when he fired his gun while off duty during a clash with a group of teenagers in Anaheim a year earlier, a caught-on-camera dispute that went viral and triggered days of protests.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore is expected to be briefed on the shooting in the coming days, and the officer likely will meet with a department psychologist, according to a law enforcement source. In the meantime, he has been placed on administrative leave.
In a Facebook post Sunday morning, Shureih shared a photo of the family at Universal Studios and questioned the necessity of the shooting.
“Do they look intimidating to you? Did he really have to shoot them all?” Shureih wrote. “I’m posting this picture because the stories on social media have made them out to be the suspects, and the off duty cop the victim.”
Shureih said his cousin had an intellectual disability, was nonverbal and had the mental capacity of a teenager. The 32-year-old lived with his parents, whom Shureih identified as Russell and Paola French. Both were being treated in an intensive care unit as of Sunday night, Shureih said.
Sandra Serrao, who lives in the Toronto area and has been friends with the French family for more than a decade, said the couple and Kenneth moved to California from Mississauga, Canada, a few years ago to help care for Paola’s elderly parents. The couple, Serrao said, has relatives in Canada and also spent years living in Kuwait. Both are from India, she said.
The Costco shooting garnered television headlines in Canada, but Serrao was shocked to learn who had been shot. She and her husband said they’d just spent more than an hour last week on FaceTime with the Frenches discussing the NBA finals.
She said Kenneth French was not the type of person to provoke anyone, which is why the situation is so difficult for her to understand.
“We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this,” she said. “They are such good people. We thought this was just another shooting in the U.S. We didn’t know it was them. This is horrible.”
Times staff writers Cindy Chang and Laura Newberry contributed to this report.