/Costco shooting: LAPD officer wont face charges in killing of Kenneth French

Costco shooting: LAPD officer wont face charges in killing of Kenneth French

Riverside County prosecutors on Wednesday announced they would not file criminal charges against an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot an intellectually disabled man in June during an altercation in a Costco store in Corona.

On Sept. 9, Dist. Atty. Mike Hestrin said his prosecutors presented the case to a Riverside grand jury of 19 people, which compelled testimony from witnesses to the gunfire inside the crowded warehouse store. Ultimately, the grand jury decided no charges were warranted against the off-duty officer, Salvador Sanchez, in the deadly shooting.

Hestrin said that prosecutors presented not only incriminating but exculpatory evidence, which California prosecutors are required to do, and that his office solicited questions from an attorney who represents Sanchez, who works as a patrol officer in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Southwest Division.

The district attorney could file charges despite the grand jury’s decision, but said he would not do so because the minimum number of jurors — 12 of the 19 — didn’t find evidence to indict.

He rejected the idea that Sanchez, as a law enforcement officer, received special treatment. “I stand by the decision of the grand jury,” Hestrin said.

Hestrin said that there was no previous altercation between the officer and anyone else.

“It was out of the blue and unexpected. The officer was hit in the back of the head while holding a child in his hands,” Hestrin said.

Hestrin played a portion of a low-quality Costco surveillance video, but it was grainy and hard to decipher what was happening. The footage shows French, wearing a striped shirt, being pulled away by a family member, wearing a dark-colored shirt. The two men fall to the ground. A woman is seen approaching the two men on the ground. Sanchez is barely seen in the far-left frame of the video.

The district attorney’s analysis determined 3.8 seconds elapsed between when Sanchez was knocked to the ground and when the first of a total of 10 shots were fired. The gunfire could not be seen in the video.

The decision against prosecution caps a three-month investigation into a case that sparked debate about the use of deadly force by law enforcement and prompted worry among families of developmentally disabled children.

French, 32, was killed in a food-tasting line June 14. His parents, Russell and Paola French, were wounded during the gunfire.

In the weeks following the deadly encounter, sharply different accounts of the interaction emerged.

Russell French, left, and his son Kevin leave a news conference in Corona. French was wounded in the Costco shooting.

Russell French, left, and his son Kevin leave a news conference in Corona. French was wounded in the Costco shooting.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The officer’s attorney, David Winslow, said his client was getting a sample when he was attacked and briefly knocked out by French.

“He was shopping with his wife and 1½-year-old at Costco. His son 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.

Corona police said the assault, which was captured on Costco security cameras, was unprovoked and led the officer to fire his 9-millimeter pistol.

Investigators with the district attorney’s office said no words were exchanged before French accosted Sanchez.

“There was no previous altercation. … There was no inadvertent bumping. The officer was hit in the head with his child,” Hestrin said.

Civil rights attorney Dale K. Galipo, who is representing the French family, acknowledged that French pushed the officer, but said the exchange wasn’t a justification for the shooting.

Before shots were fired, there was a gap in time when the officer declared he was a police officer, and French’s father stepped between the two men.

French was normally calm, but he had had a recent change in medication that might have affected his behavior, Galipo said.

The attorney has said French was nonverbal and suffered from schizophrenia.

In August, a Riverside County Superior Court judge blocked the release of the surveillance video, which was unveiled Wednesday.

The Times requested a copy of the 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.

Judge Eric Keen wrote in a ruling July 22 that releasing the video would substantially interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation into the case. The order originally barred Corona and Los Angeles police from releasing the video for one year from the date of the shooting.

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