In the moments after an off-duty Los Angeles police officer shot and killed a mentally ill man inside a Southern California Costco in 2019, a responding police officer found the off-duty cop laying on his back on the floor as if he he was the one who had been shot.
”Do you have any weapons?” asked the Corona police officer who had been parked in front of the store on June 14, 2019 after the off-duty cop fired ten times, killing the man and wounding his mother and father.
“No, he’s got it,” responded Salvador Sanchez, pointing at the man he had just shot who was laying on the floor along with his parents, all of them struck by gunfire.
But Kenneth French – who witnesses say either slapped or punched the cop in the back of the head unprovoked – never did have a weapon. And surveillance video shows his father was shoving him away from Sanchez when the cop opened fire which is when they fall to the ground.
However, the surveillance video is grainy and far from the incident. A closer surveillance camera that might have captured the entire incident was not working, according to prosecutors.
The new body camera video was obtained by NBC Los Angeles after months of requesting it from the Corona Police Department in Riverside County.
As Sanchez is lying on his back, he explains his version to the cop.
“I see a blast and I feel my head get knocked out, and I fall to the ground, I dropped my son. When I dropped my son, and the guy like, hunkers down,” he says.
“What guy?” the cop asks.
“The guy in the blue shirt. I believed he was still armed so I shot.”
“Those people probably like got in the way,” he explains in regards to French’s parents being shot as well.
However, when the Corona police officer asks him if he specifically saw a weapon, he clammed up.
“You know what, I’m not going to talk any further without my lawyers.”
Although Sanchez claimed in the video to have been struck on the head with such force that he thought he had been shot, paramedics who examined him in an ambulance moments later found “no significant injury,” NBC Los Angeles reports.
Nevertheless, a grand jury which met in secret three months after the shooting determined Sanchez was not criminally liable for the shooting.
However, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted its own investigation and determined his actions violated the department’s use of force policy and fired him in 2020.
According to NBC Los Angeles:
According to Corona Police interviews, multiple witnesses said Sanchez was struck in the head by French’s hand, as the two stood near a food sample table. Corona and LAPD detectives determined French never had a gun and no shooting took place before Sanchez opened fire.
Several witnesses said the strike, described as a punch or a slap, was unprovoked. One eyewitness told Corona Police that Sanchez collapsed to the floor so quickly she thought he had suffered a medical emergency; another said Sanchez “got down” to the floor, took a “defensive position,” and began shooting, according to detectives’ reports.
The LAPD found in June 2020 that Sanchez’s actions that night were unreasonable and had violated the department’s rules for use of lethal force. Sanchez was fired a month later.
One of Sanchez’s attorneys, David Winslow, said the LAPD’s conclusions were “incompetent” because the report failed to fully explore whether or not Sanchez had truly suffered a head injury, and Winslow said in the chaos of the moment, Sanchez had acted in a reasonable manner given Sanchez’s perception of what had happened.
“For anybody in the LAPD to say that the average LAPD officer wouldn’t have reacted that way is simply being dishonest because you don’t know how somebody is going to react with a head injury,” Winslow said.
“The impact on his brain caused him to believe that Mr. French had a gun. We know Mr. French didn’t have a gun. But unfortunately, Officer Sanchez was operating under the influence of the severe brain trauma that he suffered in that situation,” he said.
Russell and Paola French, the parents of the victim, have a filed a lawsuit against Sanchez and the LAPD. Below is an excerpt:
On or about June 14, 2019, DECEDENT and his parents PAOLA FRENCH and RUSSELL FRENCH went to the local Costco Wholesale to do some shopping.
While inside the Costco SALVADOR SANCHEZ, a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”), opened fire and discharged approximately ten (10) rounds at PAOLA FRENCH, RUSSELL FRENCH and DECEDENT, striking all three of them, including shots to the back. As a result of the gunshot wounds sustained by PAOLA FRENCH and RUSSELL FRENCH, they both suffered serious physical injuries that will require medical attention and care for the remainder of their lives. PAOLA FRENCH and RUSSELL FRENCH also suffered severe emotional injuries and distress as a result of being shot, witnessing each other get shot, and witnessing their son, DECEDENT, being shot and killed. Further, DECEDENT suffered serious physical injury, pre-death pain and suffering, and death as a result of the gunshot wounds he sustained. DECEDENT was only 32 years old at the time of his death. Moreover, DECEDENT was PAOLA FRENCH and RUSSELL FRENCH’s first born child and their only surviving child is Kevin French, DECEDENT’s brother.
PAOLA FRENCH, RUSSELL FRENCH and DECEDENT were all moving away from SALVADOR SANCHEZ at the time of the shooting, which is consistent with the multiple gunshot wounds to the back and were not an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to Officer Sanchez or to anyone else. Further, both PAOLA FRENCH and RUSSELL FRENCH were in between SALVADOR SANCHEZ and DECEDENT at the time of the shooting, pleading with SALVADOR SANCHEZ not to shoot their son. Moreover, SALVADOR SANCHEZ was put on notice that DECEDENT suffered from mental illness, prior to the gunshots.
SALVADOR SANCHEZ announced and identified himself as being a police officer prior to the shooting and continued to identify himself as being a member of law enforcement after the shooting, including to Costco shoppers, employees, vendors and the responding police officers, from the Corona Police Department. SALVADOR SANCHEZ was acting in his capacity as a police officer at the time of the incident.
At the time of the shooting PAOLA FRENCH, RUSSELL FRENCH DECEDENT posed no immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to SALVADOR SANCHEZ or any other person, especially since they were visibly unarmed and moving away from SALVADOR SANCHEZ when the shooting began, including multiple shots to the back.
DECEDENT was not in physical contact with SALVADOR SANCHEZ at time of the shooting and there was substantial distance between SALVADOR SANCHEZ and DECEDENT at the time of the shooting. In other words, DECEDENT was not punching or pushing SALVADOR SANCHEZ at the time of the shooting, and DECEDENT was not trying to assault or attack the officer during the shooting or immediately before the shooting.
DECEDENT did not cause serious physical injury to anyone, including to SALVADOR SANCHEZ, prior to the shooting or at any point. Officer Sanchez removed a concealed weapon from his waistband, identified himself as a police officer, then aimed at and successfully shot three (3) different people who were moving away from him and visibly unarmed. Out of the ten shots fired, it is believed that six shots total struck the Plaintiffs and DECEDENT.
In addition to the use of excessive force, when Defendant announced himself as a police officer and pointed his gun at the Plaintiffs and DECEDENT, the Defendant was using his authority as a police officer to detain them without reasonable suspicion and was trying to arrest them without probable cause.
After shooting PAOLA FRENCH, RUSSELL FRENCH and DECEDENT, SALVADOR SANCHEZ did not provide or summons timely medical attention for them, despite them bleeding profusely and having obvious serious injuries.
After the shooting SALVADOR SANCHEZ continued to identify himself as being a police officer, which is why those individuals inside of the Costco never attempted to disarm, apprehend, or to physically detain or remove him from the premises. Instead, because SALVADOR SANCHEZ continued to identify himself as being a police officer, those inside of the Costco never attempted to interfere or intervene before or after the incident, he was allowed to remained armed with his police-issued concealed weapon on the premises, and was allowed to make phone calls, including to his employer LAPD (City of Los Angeles), after the shooting.