The California attorney general’s office on Monday said it has filed manslaughter and assault charges against a former Los Angeles police officer who is accused of fatally shooting a mentally disabled man during an off-duty altercation at a Costco store in 2019.
Salvador Sanchez, 32, a seven-year veteran of the LAPD at the time of the June 2019 shooting, was arrested Monday morning in Riverside County. His bail was set at $155,000, according to jail records.
Sanchez is accused of killing 32-year-old Kenneth French and wounding his elderly parents during a brief confrontation inside the Costco store in Corona, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
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Sanchez was shopping at the store with his family and holding his 1 1/2-year-old son when he was struck from behind by French. Sanchez was knocked to the ground, and he opened fire, fatally wounding French and critically injuring his parents, Russell, 58, and Paola French, 59, police say.
Sanchez shot French four times in the back and shoulder, his mother once in the stomach, and his father once in the back, Corona Police Chief George Johnstone said.
“Where there’s reason to believe a crime has been committed, we will seek justice,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “That’s exactly what these charges are about: pursuing justice after an independent and thorough review of the evidence and the law. 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.”
Sanchez said he believed he had been shot when he was struck by French, who lived with his parents and had the mental capabilities of a teenager, the Los Angeles Times reported. French had been taken off his medication for mental health illness due to other health complications, which may have caused him to lash out, said Dale Galipo, the French family attorney.
The charges filed by Bonta came after the Riverside County district attorney declined to charge Sanchez criminally. A grand jury did not bring an indictment in September 2019.
The encounter in the Corona store spanned just 3.8 seconds. The grand jury was presented with a poor-quality clip of surveillance video and testimony from several witnesses, some of whom had been subpoenaed.
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“I believe that he believed at that moment that he was shot,” Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin had said at a news conference in 2019 when making the announcement that there would be no charges.
“He told witnesses around very quickly after that he was shot and he was reaching back numerous times looking for blood on the back of his head,” Hestrin added. “So that’s the evidence. That’s the evidence that the grand jury heard. And that’s from numerous witnesses around the incident. Yes. The officer, after being struck, thought he had been shot and believed there was an active shooter in front of him.”
On Monday, David Winslow, Sanchez’s attorney, called his client’s arrest a “political stunt that does absolutely nothing to protect the public.”
“The arrest of Sal Sanchez is a product of the politically motivated program by the California Attorney General to prosecute police officers,” Winslow said in a statement. “Sal was not acting as a police officer when he was attacked. He was off duty acting as a father in self-defense and protecting his child.”
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Sanchez faces one count of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm. The LAPD said he was terminated from the agency in July 2020, but it declined further comment on Sanchez’s arrest.
The Associated Press contributed to this report