A former cop who shot and killed a man with a mental disability inside a Costco store two years ago was charged on Monday with one count of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a semiautomatic gun, according to a charging document the California Attorney General released. Salvador Sanchez, a former Los Angeles police officer fired last July, was off duty when he shot Kenneth French on June 14, 2019, ended up killing the nonverbal 32-year-old and also injuring his parents, 58-year-old Russell and 59-year-old Paola, according to a news release from the office of the attorney general. At the time of the shooting, the French family was shopping in Corona, California, which is about 45 miles east of Los Angeles
David Winslow, Sanchez’s attorney, said in a statement the New York Times obtained that his client “was holding his baby when he was violently attacked and knocked to the ground” by French. Sanchez was temporarily knocked unconscious in the incident, and he believed his life and that of his child were in danger, the attorney said. He described the charges against Sanchez as “politically motivated” against a father acting "in self-defense and protecting his child.”
Sanchez told investigators after firing at French twice that he thought he had been shot and that French was still aiming a gun at him and his child, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sanchez said French had a “concentrated, intense look in his eyes, still looking at me and my son.”
“I remember we were face-to-face and his arm was still extended out, and I believe he still had that same gun, and I fired twice more in his direction at him,” Sanchez said. He ended up firing ten rounds while positioned at least 20 feet from French and his parents, the Los Angeles Times reported. Sanchez said he didn't see French's parents and that he was unaware of French's mental disability. Sanchez wasn’t injured in the incident, NBC LA reported.
Rick Shureih, who The New York Times identified as a cousin of French's, said in a private Facebook post: “Our family has witness accounts that do not match up to the original story. We are a pro police family. I have many friends in Law Enforcement. We need justice to prevail! Please review the surveillance tape!” He said his family “was unarmed and was just grocery shopping. […] Did he really have to shoot them all?" Shureih asked.
A grand jury failed to indict the officer after the incident, and Riverside County Disrict Attorney Mike Hestrin did not prosecute Sanchez after conducting an investigation. Attorney General Rob Bonta told the Los Angeles Times the state constitution gave him the power to step in when the law is “not being adequately enforced in any county.” He implied in his news release that the charges against Sanchez were warranted. “Where there’s reason to believe a crime has been committed, we will seek justice,” Bonta said. “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.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore and the city’s civilian Board of Police Commissioners determined last year that Sanchez acted outside of department policy, the Los Angeles Times reported. “The decisions and actions of this officer cannot be justified and are inconsistent with the Department’s core values, training and expectations of every member of this organization,” Moore said at the time.
Sanchez is being held on a $155,000 bond at the Riverside County jail, and he is set to appear in court on Wednesday. “The District Attorney’s Office has, and will continue to, work with the Attorney General’s Office to assist them in this prosecution,” Hestrin said in an email the Los Angeles Times obtained.