An off-duty Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot a developmentally disabled man during a confrontation in a Corona Costco, as well as critically wounded the victim’s parents — all of whom were unarmed — must stand trial on voluntary manslaughter and other charges, a judge ruled Monday.
Following a preliminary hearing that spanned nearly three days, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Samuel Diaz ruled there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for 33-year-old Salvador Alejandro Sanchez of Corona on the manslaughter count, as well as two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm resulting in great bodily injury.
The judge scheduled a post-preliminary hearing arraignment for Aug. 29 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
Sanchez is free on a $155,000 bond.
During testimony last week, a witness, William Gagnon, described the aftermath of the shooting, saying that because of the volley of gunfire, he initially believed there were “two shooters.”
The shooting occurred on the evening of June 14, 2019, inside the Costco at 480 N. McKinley St., where 32-year-old Kenneth French was killed and his parents, Russell and Paola French, all of Corona, were wounded.
Gagnon testified that he had been in the store searching for items when he misplaced his keys. He didn’t realize that he had lost them until he reached the parking lot to leave, prompting him to go back into the Costco.
As he headed down the main aisle, shots rang out, Gagnon said, resulting in several moments of chaos. The witness said that when things settled down, he proceeded in the direction of where he saw four people were laying down, assuming they were victims.
“I saw one guy with a gun in his right hand, pointing it another person on the ground,” Gagnon testified. “I asked him, `Where’s the gun?’ And he said, `He still has it in his hand! He still has it in his hand!”’
The person pointing the handgun was Sanchez, according to testimony. Gagnon said he checked the wounded individual — later identified as Russell French — to whom the off-duty policeman was motioning, but there was no gun.
The witness said that before walking over to check on Kenneth French, he saw the mortally wounded man’s mother laying on the floor, pleading, “Help me, help me.”
Store employees and other witnesses soon began rendering aid to the wounded husband and wife, while Gagnon knelt beside Kenneth French.
“He appeared to be having difficulty breathing,” the witness said. “There was blood coming out of his right ear. His body was shaking. There was like a tremor every now and again. I stayed with him for five or 10 minutes. I took his right hand and tried talking to him, but he didn’t respond. Then he appeared to stop bleeding, and there was no more labored breathing. I tried to feel for a pulse, but there was no pulse.”
According to Corona police investigators, only Sanchez was armed and fired 10 shots from his off-duty pistol.
When he announced criminal charges against Sanchez last summer, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the case was about “pursuing justice” and reaffirming the principle that “nobody is above the law.”
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office in September 2019 took the matter to the 19-member county grand jury, and jurors declined to indict Sanchez.
In the summer of 2020, the Los Angeles Police Commission determined the Costco shooting reflected unjustifiable use of force, and Sanchez was booted out of the Los Angeles Police Department a month later.
The French family filed a lawsuit against the LAPD, the city of Los Angeles and Sanchez at the end of 2019, alleging negligence and civil rights violations. A Los Angeles jury in November 2021 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding them $17 million.
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 Sanchez’s civil attorney, David Winslow, his client was dazed, and when he saw his son next to him screaming, he “had no choice but to use deadly force.”
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 the victim 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, was ill.
Store security surveillance tapes showed the victims backing away from Sanchez when he fired.
Kenneth French was shot once in the shoulder and three times in the back, while his mother was shot in the back, and her husband was shot in the abdomen, resulting in the loss of a kidney.