California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Monday announced that his office has filed charges against a former LAPD officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man at a Costco in Corona two years ago.
Salvador Sanchez has been arrested on charges of voluntary manslaughter and assault with a semiautomatic firearm, according to a news release from the state attorney general’s office. He faces three counts total.
Sanchez was taken into custody in Riverside County Monday morning.
The action comes nearly two years after a Riverside County grand jury declined to bring charges against the former Los Angeles Police Department officer, who — according to court documents — was off duty when he fatally shot 32-year-old Kenneth French following a confrontation at the warehouse store on the night of June 14, 2019.
French was with his parents at the time, and they were also shot and seriously injured.
“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,” Bonta said in a statement.
Sanchez was shopping at the Costco with his family and holding his 1 1/2-year-old son when he was struck from behind by French, according to authorities. The two apparently didn’t exchange words before that.
French’s parents, Russell and Paola, said their son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and they tried to intervene on his behalf. They attempted to explain his intellectual disability to Sanchez when he identified himself as a police officer.
“I begged and told him not to shoot,” Russell French said back in August 2019, in what was the parents’ first public remarks after they were released from the hospital. “I said, ‘We have no guns, and my son is sick.’ He still shot.”
Sanchez’s attorney, David Winslow, told the Associated Press that his client was briefly knocked unconscious and his young son also fell to the ground.
After regaining consciousness, the officer grabbed his gun and opened fire because he thought he “was under attack” and “believed his life and his son’s life was in immediate danger,” the attorney said in the AP’s interview, which took place several days after the shooting.
The former officer fired off 10 shots, striking Kenneth French three times in the back and once in the shoulder, according to then-Corona Police Department Chief George Johnstone.
An attorney for the victim’s family disputed the characterization that the officer had been attacked before the fatal shots were discharged, however, describing it more like an “open-handed push or slap” to Sanchez’s back.
“It certainly does not justify killing someone,” the lawyer, Dale Galipo, told the Associated Press in an interview also conducted in the wake of the deadly violence.
Sanchez was terminated by the department in July 2020, according to LAPD, which said through a statement that it was cooperating with the attorney general’s investigation.
Before the firing, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners found, in June 2020, that the off-duty officer had violated LAPD policy.
The initial decision not to file charges in the case came on Sept. 25, 2019, following a monthslong investigation by Corona police and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
A grand jury deliberated for about two weeks but ultimately didn’t find enough evidence for criminal prosecution, according to the DA’s office.
“This case has weighed heavily on us. It’s a difficult case. The community is feeling this, rightly so,” DA Mike Hestrin said at a news conference following an announcement of the grand jury’s decision. “This was a horrible, tragic situation that occurred in one of our cities.”
But after its own review of the case, the state Attorney General’s Office decided to file the felony charges against Sanchez, according to the release.
“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.”