Family Condemns Decision Not to Prosecute Cop for Deadly Costco Shooting

The parents and brother of a 32-year-old developmentally disabled man killed during a confrontation with an off-duty Los Angeles police officer inside a Corona Costco expressed outrage Thursday over a grand jury decision not to indict the lawman and Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin's decision to defend the finding, without pursuing any criminal charges.

"We are extremely heartbroken," Russell French, the father of Kenneth French, told reporters during a news briefing at the Ayres Suites in Corona. "This is another blow to our family. We have lost faith in the U.S. justice system." 

His wife, Paola, broke down in tears while speaking, saying the policeman, Salvador Sanchez, "clearly saw we were unarmed. He was wrong to fire 10 shots at our family." 

She remembered her eldest son as "extremely caring and kind." 

"It's such a sad end," she said tearfully. "We lost him. As a mom, this is the worst case. I wouldn't wish this on anyone." 

The French's attorney, Dale Galipo, announced during the briefing that he would be filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sanchez, the Los Angeles Police Department and the city of Los Angeles.

However, he said the family had retained a second attorney who specializes in criminal law to push for inquiries by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the California Attorney General's Office, either of which could pursue criminal prosecution of Sanchez for the June 14 shooting.

Galipo said he was "not surprised" by the lack of an indictment and Hestrin's decision to forgo filing charges.

"There have been thousands of officer-involved shootings, and not one police officer has been prosecuted," the attorney said. "That's one reason why there are so many shootings. If this had been anyone other than a police officer, that individual would've been arrested and charged in 48 hours." 

Galipo said that when Russell and Paola French gave testimony to the grand jury, the panel seemed to spend the majority of the time asking questions regarding their dead son's general behavior, rather than the circumstances of the shooting.

"How was the evidence presented and argued before the jury?" Galipo wondered.

He could not understand how "someone can fire 10 shots at unarmed people, wounding them in the back, and the jury could not indict on a single charge?" 

Kevin French, the decedent's younger brother, said he spoke to employees at the McKinley Street Costco, and they believed his sibling had been the victim of a "cold-blooded murder." 

"My entire family was unarmed," he said. "They were moving away from this officer. They had their backs turned. None of them were posing an imminent threat ... D.A. Hestrin is giving someone with a badge a permit to shoot without consequences or accountability." 

Hestrin said Wednesday that he respected the grand jury's determination, emphasizing that "we had to put our passions and emotions aside and marry the facts with the law. We don't pay attention to public outcries or social media rants." 

According to the D.A., evidence collected from the shooting was presented to the grand jury beginning on Sept. 9, and they announced Tuesday that no indictment would be handed down.

"I would file charges if I thought there was a problem with the process," he said. "All the evidence we had was presented to the grand jury. I stand by their decision." 

Hestrin denied Sanchez has been favored with "special treatment"  because he's a cop.

"This is viewed as an officer-involved shooting," he said. "Police officers have to respond (to an attack) as if they're on duty." 

When Russell French first spoke to reporters on Aug. 26, he said that he had "begged (Sanchez) not to shoot," telling him, "our son is sick." 

Galipo said the parents and son were moving away from the off-duty cop when he opened fire. According to Corona police Chief George Johnstone, Kenneth French was shot once in the shoulder and three times in the back. Paola French was shot in the back, and her husband was shot in the abdomen, resulting in the loss of a kidney.

Galipo said the trio had been shopping for a half-hour when they stopped at a food sample booth in the store to nibble on sausages. Why Kenneth French turned physical with Sanchez, shoving him to the floor while the off- duty officer held his 18-month-old son, is unclear, Galipo acknowledged.

He said the decedent was a diagnosed schizophrenic and nonverbal, with no history of aggression.

According to the attorney, the next opportunity to get answers as to why there was any contact will be when Sanchez is deposed for the lawsuit.

"I will get every bit of information I can," Galipo vowed. "There will be a lot of details released to the public." 

Hestrin played a security surveillance videotape from the Costco that partially captured the deadly 7:45 p.m. confrontation. The clips mainly revealed the tail-end of the encounter between French and Sanchez, with the former appearing to be the aggressor, and Sanchez falling somewhere out of frame. Russell French is clearly visible, standing in front of his son to turn him back, at which point both men are struck by gunfire and collapse to the floor of the store.

According to Sanchez's attorney, David Winslow, the lawman was knocked down and briefly lost consciousness. When he awoke, he found his son next to him, screaming. The attorney said his client "had no choice but to use deadly force." 

Hestrin said there was no evidence that Sanchez ever lost consciousness. The lawman was not hospitalized, and his son was not injured.

Sanchez is on paid administrative leave by the LAPD, where he has been a patrolman for seven years, most recently assigned to the Southwest Division.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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