RIVERSIDE — A former Los Angeles police officer shot a developmentally disabled man who pushed an off-duty lawman to the floor of a Corona Costco during an unexplained confrontation that caused the victim’s parents to be shot. Granted, Thursday pleaded not guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Salvador Alejandro Sanchez, 32, of Corona was arrested in August by agents of the California Department of Justice after a month-long investigation.
Along with manslaughter, Sanchez is charged with two counts of assault with a semiautomatic shotgun that resulted in major bodily injury.
The defendant was produced before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Ozzy Magno at the Riverside Hall of Justice and remains free on a $155,000 bond.
In announcing the charges against Sanchez last summer, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the case was about “the pursuit of justice” and reaffirming the principle that “no one is above the law.”
Sanchez’s attorney, David Winslow, responded that the state’s case was “a political stunt in a politically motivated program (rooted) by the California Attorney General to prosecute police officers.”
Shooting inside Costco on the evening of June 14, 2019 at 480 N. McKinley St.
Kenneth French, 32, was killed, and his parents, Russell and Paola French – all Corona – were seriously injured.
The family filed a civil suit against the LAPD, the City of Los Angeles and Sanchez in late 2019, alleging both willful and negligent acts of negligence, civil rights violations, and emotional distress. In November, a Los Angeles jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding them $17 million in damages.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office took the case to a 19-member county grand jury in September 2019, and the jury declined to indict Sanchez.
After the DOJ announced its case against Sanchez, District Attorney Mike Hestrin reiterated that “all known and available evidence” had been presented to jurors.
He told reporters at the conclusion of the grand jury proceedings that “we have to put our passions and feelings aside and connect the facts to the law.” He denied that Sanchez was endowed with “special treatment” because he was a law enforcement officer.
In the summer of 2020, the Los Angeles Police Commission determined that the Costco shooting reflected an inappropriate use of force by Sanchez, and he was removed from the police force a month later.
The victims were shopping when they approached a food sample table with sausages, where the defendant was also standing holding his 18-month-old son. No one disputes that, for reasons still unknown, Kenneth French kicked the off-duty lawman to the ground.
According to Winslow, Sanchez was stunned, and when he saw his son screaming next to him, he had “no choice but to use lethal force.”
“At the time of the incident, he believed he was protecting himself and his child from being killed,” Winslow said.
Sanchez’s statements were captured by body-camera tapes of Corona police officers who visited the scene, indicating what he initially believed to be Kenneth French’s weapon. But according to the police, the victim did not have weapons.
Russell and Paola French said they requested Sanchez not to shoot, telling the officer that their son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and largely nonverbal, had mental problems. Then-Corona Police Chief George Johnstone said detectives confirmed 10 shots were fired.
Store security surveillance tape shows the victims retreating from Sanchez when the shots were fired.
Kenneth French was shot once in the shoulder and three times in the back, while Paola French was shot in the back and her husband in the stomach, resulting in a kidney failure.