An ex-LAPD officer who fatally shot a developmentally disabled man who shoved him to the floor of a Corona Costco during an unexplained confrontation that also led to the former lawman shooting the man’s parents was arrested Monday for voluntary manslaughter and other alleged offenses.
Salvador Alejandro Sanchez, 31, of Corona was taken into custody by California Department of Justice agents on Red Bluff Road in Riverside shortly before 10 a.m. Sanchez was booked into the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside, where he’s being held on $155,000 bail.
In addition to the manslaughter count, the criminal complaint filed by the state alleges two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm, as well as sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.
If the defendant fails to post bond, he is tentatively slated to make an initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
“Where there’s reason to believe a crime has been committed, we will seek justice,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “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’s attorney, David Winslow, released a statement calling the AG’s decision “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. “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.”
The shooting occurred on the evening of June 14, 2019, inside the Costco at 480 N. McKinley St.
Kenneth French, 32, was killed, and his parents, Russell and Paola French — all of Corona — were critically wounded.
The family filed a civil suit against the LAPD, the city of Los Angeles and Sanchez at the end of 2019, alleging battery, negligence, civil rights violations and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
A spokeswoman for the family’s attorney, Dale Galipo, told City News Service they will not be commenting on the DOJ’s criminal case.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office in September 2019 took the matter to the 19-member county grand jury, and the jury declined to indict Sanchez.
DA Mike Hestrin did not comment directly on the state charges or the DOJ’s independent review of the shooting, but he released a statement reiterating that “all known and available evidence” had been presented to the grand jury.
Hestrin told reporters at the conclusion of the grand jury proceedings that “`we had to put our passions and emotions aside and marry the facts with the law.”
He denied Sanchez had been favored with “special treatment” because he was a law enforcement officer.
“This is viewed as an officer-involved shooting,” Hestrin said at the time. “Police officers have to respond (to an attack) as if they’re on duty.”
In the summer of 2020, the Los Angeles Police Commission determined the Costco shooting reflected unjustifiable use of force by Sanchez, and he was booted 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 then-18-month-old son. No one has disputed that, for reasons still unknown, Kenneth French shoved the off-duty lawman to the ground.
According to Winslow, Sanchez was dazed, and when he saw his son next to him screaming, he “had no choice but to use deadly force.’ ‘
“Sanchez was holding his baby when he was violently attacked and knocked to the ground along with his baby,” Winslow said Monday. “At the time of the incident, he believed he was protecting himself and his baby from being killed.”
Tapes from body-worn cameras of Corona police officers who went to the scene captured statements from Sanchez indicating that he initially believed Kenneth French was holding a weapon. But he was not armed, according to police.
Russell and Paola French said they pleaded with Sanchez not to shoot, telling the officer that their son, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was largely nonverbal, had psychiatric trouble. Then-Corona police Chief George Johnstone said detectives confirmed 10 shots were fired.
Store security surveillance tapes show the victims were backing away from Sanchez when the gunfire erupted.
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 was shot in the abdomen, resulting in the loss of a kidney.
Galipo called the shooting “a complete overreaction on behalf of this police officer.”