Corona, CA – A former Los Angeles police officer has been criminally charged in the fatal shooting death of a man who allegedly attacked him inside a Costco store as he was holding his infant.
The incident occurred inside the Costco warehouse on McKinley Avenue on June 14, 2019, KABC reported.
Off-duty Los Angeles Police Officer Salvador Sanchez, 32, was shopping at the store while carrying his baby when 32-year-old Kenneth French suddenly punched him in the back of his head, knocking him to the floor and causing him to momentarily lose consciousness, according to testimony provided during a preliminary hearing last week.
Investigators later discovered French was developmentally disabled, according to KABC.
Officer Sanchez said he believed French was armed with a gun and that the lives of both him and his child were in danger, The Press Democrat reported.
A Costco employee who witnessed the violent attack testified about the incident on Aug. 10, according to KABC.
“I turned around and [French] punched [Officer Sanchez] on the head and dropped him down with the baby,” the employee testified.
She said she then heard Officer Sanchez yell that he’d been shot, KABC reported.
Gunfire rang out a moment later.
“I heard the gunshot, and that’s when I panicked,” the employee testified.
Investigators said the off-duty officer fired his weapon multiple times, fatally wounding French and severely injuring French’s parents, 62-year-old Paola French and 61-year-old Russell French, according to The Press-Enterprise.
According to attorneys representing French’s family, French was nonverbal and had been taken off his mental health medications shortly before the assault due to other medical issues, The Press Democrat reported.
Investigators said French was unarmed and had began moving away from the injured officer after the attack when he was shot.
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Michel Moore ultimately concluded that Officer Sanchez, a seven-year LAPD veteran, violated department policy at the time of the off-duty shooting and recommended he be fired.
The police commission agreed.
The Riverside County District Attorney refused to file criminal charges against the fired officer and presented the case to a grand jury, which also declined to indict him, KABC reported.
The California Department of Justice took up the case in August of 2021 and Sanchez was charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and manslaughter, The Press Democrat reported.
Superior Court Judge Samuel Diaz determined on Aug. 15 that there was sufficient evidence to support the allegations that Sanchez did not fire at French in self-defense, according to The-Press Enterprise.
The former officer has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is due back in court on Aug. 29.
His attorney, Michael Schwartz, said he is looking forward to helping his client clear his name.
“If these cases have shown us anything historically, it’s that people should withhold any determination until all the facts come out at trial,” Schwartz told The Press-Enterprise.
The French family won a $17 million civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, Sanchez, and the LAPD in November of 2021, KABC reported.