Los Angeles, CA — As TFTP reported in June of 2019, panic erupted inside a Corona, California Costco as multiple people were injured and one man was killed during a shooting. Dozens of shoppers immediately dropped to the ground as fears of the next mass shooting filled their thoughts. However, it turns out the "mass shooter" was an LAPD cop and his unarmed victims were a mentally disabled non-verbal man and his parents. After months of slow playing and refusing to release the surveillance footage, the Riverside County District Attorney announced that they would not charge the cop.
Now however, over two years later, the California attorney general’s office announced Monday it had filed manslaughter and assault charges against former officer Salvador Sanchez, 32, for shooting and killing Kenneth French inside the Costco.
“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.
The charges were shocking considering it was announced in 2019 that no charges would be filed, leading Sanchez's attorney to refer to his client's arrest as a "political stunt."
According to the LA Times, 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.”
In March of this year, video of the aftermath of the shooting was released and it showed police giving special privilege to officer Sanchez after he killed a mentally ill man and shot his parents. They didn't even immediately place him in handcuffs.
The incident unfolded on June 14, 2019 and Russell and Paola French spent weeks in the hospital after officer Sanchez opened fire on them and their son Kenneth, who had schizophrenia and was non-verbal.
No one disputes the fact that Kenneth, unprovoked, walked up to Sanchez as he fed his toddler a sample and slapped him from behind. Kenneth's behavior here, most assuredly deserved a reaction, especially since Sanchez was holding his child. Any parent in their right mind would've gone into fight or flight mode and that is what Sanchez did, pulling his gun and identifying himself as a cop.
However, as Kenneth's parents informed the cop that their son is mentally disabled and did not realize what he was doing. The cop continued to escalate anyway.
Surveillance footage released months after the shooting shows Kenneth being pulled away from Sanchez before Sanchez opened fire on him — meaning there was no longer a threat. Despite the lack of threat, Sanchez would fire a total of ten rounds in the store, even after Kenneth fell to the ground. Sanchez claimed that even though Kenneth was on the ground, he still had a “concentrated, intense look in his eyes, still looking at me and my son."
According to police documents, however, Kenneth and his parents were over 20 feet away when Sanchez opened fire. To consider this a threat is inconceivable.
“Those people, probably like, got in the way, I don’t know,” Sanchez said in the body camera footage, referring to French’s parents, who were each struck with one of Sanchez’s bullets, alo0ng with multiple items inside the Costco.
When pressed for more detail about who he’d aimed at, Sanchez told officer Slane he didn’t want to answer more questions.
“Ok, he was hunkered down over here--Did you see a weapon?” Slane asked.
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“You know, I’m not gonna talk any further without my lawyers,” Sanchez said.
According to the cop's attorney, David Winslow, during this four seconds, Sanchez lost consciousness and when he stood up — despite Kenneth no longer attacking and despite Kenneth's parents pleading with the cop — Sanchez had no other choice but to kill Kenneth and shoot his parents, in their backs.
Winslow said his client "had no choice but to use deadly force."
However, the child was not injured at all and Sanchez was fine which is why the family's attorney, Dale Galipo said the use of force was entirely unnecessary.
Galipo called Sanchez's response "a complete over-reaction," adding that it was disturbing that, "if anyone other than an off-duty police officer had shot three unarmed civilians in a Costco, that person would be in jail and facing criminal charges for murder."
NBC 4 Los Angeles reports:
According to Corona Police interviews, multiple witnesses said Sanchez was struck in the head by French’s hand, as the two stood near a food sample table. Corona and LAPD detectives determined French never had a gun and no shooting took place before Sanchez opened fire.
Several witnesses said the strike, described as a punch or a slap, was unprovoked. One eyewitness told Corona Police that Sanchez collapsed to the floor so quickly she thought he had suffered a medical emergency; another said Sanchez "got down" to the floor, took a "defensive position," and began shooting, according to detectives’ reports.
“After hearing Officer [Salvador] Sanchez identify himself as a police officer, I begged and told him not to shoot,” Russell French said after getting out of the hospital months later. “I said, ‘We have no guns, and my son is sick.’ He still shot. I thought people don’t do that.”
Both parents were shot in their backs, indicating "they were not facing Officer Sanchez’ direction at the time they were shot," a statement from the firm representing the family said.
Kenneth also had his back to the officer when he was struck multiple times, Galipo said.
“Not only did we lose our first-born son, my husband and I sustained injuries that will impact our lives forever,” Paola French said in tears.
In what should've played out as an assault and battery by a mentally ill person, quickly turned into attempted mass murder and a murder by cop.
Though a grand jury failed to indict him, the LAPD found in June 2020 that Sanchez’s actions that night were unreasonable and had violated the department’s rules for use of lethal force. Sanchez was fired a month later.
Adding to the already incredibly suspect nature of this incident is the fact that in August, a Riverside Superior Court judge blocked the release of surveillance video that captured the entire ordeal. This is in direct contrast to the wishes of the victims.
For now, however, it appears that the family may see some form of justice.