LA Police Commission Says Off-Duty Cop Who Shot And Killed Unarmed Man In Costco Violated Policy

Kenneth French and his family at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Courtesy of Rick Shureih)

As he deals with numerous complaints of excessive force during the George Floyd protests, LAPD Chief Michel Moore now faces another challenge: how much discipline to impose on an officer who was found Wednesday to have violated policy when he fatally shot an unarmed and intellectually disabled man in a Corona Costco last year.

The L.A. Police Commission agreed with Moore's determination that Officer Salvador Sanchez had no justification for shooting 32-year-old Kenneth French and wounding both of his parents on June 14. Sanchez opened fire after French hit him in the back of the head while the officer was standing in a food-tasting line holding his 18-month-old son.

It's now up to Moore to decide on what level of discipline to impose on Sanchez.

The chief's report to the commission noted that Sanchez had claimed to the department's Use of Force Review Board that he believed he had been shot and that French had a black handgun in his right hand. The Review Board said it couldn't find any information that would support Sanchez' contention: no other witnesses saw a handgun, and no objects were recovered from the scene that resembled a firearm.

In addition, the Review Board was presented evidence that French was moving away from Sanchez at about the time the officer opened fire.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin had referred the case to a grand jury, which last September declined to indict Sanchez.

In December, French's parents, Paola and Russell, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Sanchez and the LAPD. The case is pending.

Sanchez attorney Ira Salzman called the incident "a terrible tragedy," saying his client "acted because he believed his son, a toddler in his arms — that his life was in danger."

This is a Facebook post from Kenneth French's cousin Rick Shureih shortly after the incident.

LESS THAN FOUR SECONDS LATER, TEN SHOTS ARE FIRED

Here's what happened after French struck Sanchez in the back of the head, according to information provided by Hestrin.

  • Sanchez opened fire almost immediately — less than 3.8 seconds after being struck by French, according to investigators. It remains unclear whether French intentionally or accidentally hit Sanchez. His intellectual disability left him unable to communicate verbally and made him awkward sometimes in public, according to his parents.
  • Sanchez fired 10 shots. Four hit French, three of them in his back, according to the DA. One hit his father in the back. Another struck his mother, leaving her in a coma for more than a week.
  • Security video previously kept secret by a judge's order appears to show French's father pushing his son away from Sanchez as the officer opened fire.
  • Hestrin revealed that Sanchez told witnesses he thought he'd been shot — even though the only gunfire was his own.
  • Hestrin also revealed there was no evidence Sanchez lost consciousness after he was struck, as his attorney had claimed. Sanchez attorney Ira Salzman said his client did suffer a concussion and that he gave the DA medical records substantiating that claim for presentation to the grand jury.

'IT WOULD BE DISINGENUOUS OF ME'

French family attorney Dale Galipo denounced Hestrin's use of the grand jury, accusing him of avoiding the politically sensitive decision of whether to file criminal charges against a cop.

"This highlights the unequal treatment of police officers compared to other citizens when they shoot people," Galipo said in a statement. He argued that Hestrin would have filed charges if Sanchez had been a civilian.

Galipo called for the public release of the grand jury transcripts, but Hestrin has not released them.

Hestrin defended his decision to give the case to a grand jury, and his decision not to pursue the case further.

"It would be disingenuous of me to take a case to the grand jury, present it, and then say, 'Well, thank you very much, I am not going to abide by what your decision is,'" he said.

Hestrin said he presented the case to the grand jury because it had the ability to subpoena reluctant witnesses. He also said he wanted the input of citizens on whether to prosecute.

The shooting may have been a bad one, but it wasn't criminal, Hestrin said.

He maintained Sanchez reasonably believed his life was in danger — even if it wasn't. That was the longstanding legal standard at the time for determining whether a police shooting is justified. (Last summer the state legislature passed a law changing the standard — now an officer may use deadly force only when "necessary.")

"I am not condoning this shooting," he told a September news conference. "I'm not up here saying it was fine."

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