Ruling: LA officer used unreasonable force in Costco killing

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An off-duty Los Angeles police officer violated departmental policy last year when he shot and killed a mentally ill man who had attacked him and his young son from behind in a Southern California Costco, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners ruled Wednesday.

LAPD Officer Salvador Sanchez, a seven-year veteran of the LAPD, opened fire June 14 in a Costco in Corona, killing 32-year-old Kenneth French and critically injuring his parents, Russell and Paola French.

Sanchez told investigators he believed French had a gun and that his life and his son’s life were in immediate danger from an active shooter. French was not armed and was moving away from Sanchez when he opened fire.

The civilian police commissioners determined French’s conduct did not present an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury — meaning that the use of lethal force was not “objectively reasonable.”

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Sanchez used tactics that warrant administrative disapproval, the commission ruled, though it was not immediately clear what that could be.

Commissioners also said in a report that Sanchez should have identified himself as a police officer and tried to deescalate the incident verbally before firing his weapon in a way that ” unjustifiably and substantially deviated from approved Department tactical training.”

Commissioners also criticized Sanchez for failing to warn other shoppers of the perceived danger. The report also stated that Sanchez gave investigators “conflicting, contradictory, and confusing” statements that caused the commissioners “great concern.”

The Riverside County district attorney in September declined to charge Sanchez criminally after a grand jury did not bring an indictment. District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Sanchez believed he had been shot in the head and a shooter was on the loose when he and his 1½-year-old son were knocked to the ground in the unprovoked assault.

Witnesses said Sanchez’s wife screamed her husband “shot somebody he wasn’t supposed to shoot” and he would go to jail. “Why did you have to shoot them all? Why did you have to kill the whole family?” witnesses reported hearing her say to Sanchez.

Dale Galipo, an attorney for the French family, called the police commission’s decision “an obvious call because clearly the shooting was so unjustified.” Galipo said the family remains disappointed that no criminal charges have been filed.

Russell and Paola French will have lifelong medical problems as a result of the shooting, Galipo said, and their surgeries have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The family has also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sanchez and the city.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore recommended to the civilian board of commissioners that the shooting was out of policy. Moore will now decide if the incident warrants further action, including discipline.

“Regardless of the outcome of this next chapter, I express my profound regret for what occurred to the French family and loved ones,” he said in a statement. “The decisions and actions of this officer cannot be justified and are inconsistent with the Department’s Core values, training and expectations of every member of this organization.”

Sanchez’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Sanchez was holding his son and standing in line for food samples. Suddenly French, without warning or provocation, knocked Sanchez and the child to the ground. Seconds later, Sanchez fired 10 rounds from his handgun but did not identify himself as a police officer.

Four bullets struck French in the back and shoulder, one struck his mother in the stomach and another hit his father in the back, police have said.

The gunfire prompted chaos inside the warehouse as terrified shoppers rushed to leave while police officers — who also believed there was an active shooter — ran inside.

Witnesses reported seeing Sanchez reach to the back of his head multiple times to look for blood, though officials say Sanchez’s claim of being knocked unconscious is not supported by any evidence.

Galipo has said Russell and Paola French were trying to explain to the officer that his son had a mental disability when shots rang out. French had been taken off his medication because of other health complications, which may have affected his behavior that night, Galipo has said.

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