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Criminal Justice

Jury Awards $17M to Family of Man Killed by Off-Duty LAPD Officer Inside Costco

Kenneth French stands with his parents at Universal Studios. Kenneth, in a plaid purple and white shirt and wearing sunglasses, stands to the right. His father, in a blue-and-white checked shirt and wearing sunglasses, stands to the left with his left arm draped around the shoulder of his wife, who stands in the middle, in a blue and white blouse and wearing sunglasses.
Kenneth French, right, and his parents at Universal Studios Hollywood.
(Courtesy of Rick Shureih)
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A federal jury in Riverside County has awarded $17 million to the parents of Kenneth French, who was fatally shot by an off-duty LAPD officer inside a Corona Costco store in 2019. The jury decided Wednesday that Salvador Sanchez was acting in his capacity as an LAPD officer and therefore the city is liable for his actions.

Sanchez opened fire on French, 32, after he knocked Sanchez and his toddler to the ground while they were waiting in a food line. Sanchez said he believed French was attacking him. Police say Sanchez was 20 feet away from French when he fired.

Sanchez also shot and wounded French’s parents. They said their son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, couldn’t communicate verbally and that his interaction with Sanchez was likely either an accident or a misunderstanding.

The judge ruled the shooting was unreasonable and an excessive use of force, so the main question was whether Sanchez was acting as a private citizen or a police officer.

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During the trial, attorneys representing the city of L.A. argued it could not be held liable for Sanchez’ actions because at the time of the shooting he was off duty, out of uniform, and in another city.

‘Acting Under The Color Of Law’

French family attorney Dale Galipo said Sanchez was acting in his capacity as an LAPD police officer because he was trained by the department, given permission to carry a concealed gun, and identified himself as an officer during the shooting. “He was acting under the color of law and in the course and scope of his employment,” he said.

The LAPD trains officers that if they have “any fear at all of any potential threat to them, they can start shooting,” and Sanchez was acting based on that training, Galipo said.

After deliberating for just four hours, the jury agreed with Galipo's argument.

Galipo noted legal settlements and jury awards “have increased tremendously” in police shooting cases as public scrutiny of them has increased in recent years, pointing to the $27 million settlement in the George Floyd killing and the $12 million settlement in the Breonna Taylor shooting.

“The question is whether it’s enough to deter [police] conduct,” he said.

In a highly unusual move earlier this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that his office has filed voluntary manslaughter charges against Sanchez, who was fired after the Costco incident. Sanchez also faces two charges of assault with a semiautomatic weapon for seriously wounding both of French’s parents. All three charges are felonies.

Riverside District Attorney Mike Hestrin had referred the case in 2019 to a grand jury, which declined to file charges against Sanchez. Hestrin refused to pursue the case further.

The L.A. Police Commission found the shooting violated department policy.

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