Off-duty officer won't be charged in deadly Costco shooting

STEFANIE DAZIO
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Off Duty Officer Fatal Shooting

FILE - This June 14, 2019 file photo shows heavily armed police officers leaving the Corona, Calif., Costco store following a fatal shooting inside. A grand jury has declined to bring charges against an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot Kenneth French during an altercation in the store. Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced the grand jury's decision Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG via AP, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An off-duty Los Angeles police officer will not be charged for fatally shooting a mentally ill man who had attacked him and his young son from behind in a California Costco, prosecutors said Wednesday.

In announcing a grand jury's findings, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Officer Salvador Sanchez believed he had been shot in the head and a shooter was on the loose when he and his son were knocked to the ground in the unprovoked assault.

Hestrin said his office would not bring its own charges against Sanchez in the wake of the grand jury decision.

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

"In a case like this, it's appropriate for the community to weigh in," Hestrin said at a news conference about the grand jury deliberations. "This case has weighed heavily on us."

Dale Galipo, an attorney for the French family, said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the development. He said he believes prosecutors only took the case to a grand jury to appease the community and may not have pushed hard enough to persuade the jurors.

Ira Salzman, Sanchez's lawyer, said his client was "gratified" to hear he won't be charged. Salzman said Sanchez did not testify before the grand jury but had given evidence to the district attorney's office regarding his state of mind and subsequent medical records showing a concussion.

"Sal believed he was shot," Salzman said. "The case was a terrible tragedy."

The officer remains on paid administrative leave as the LAPD conducts an inquiry into whether Sanchez followed department policies.

The encounter in the Corona warehouse store spanned just 3.8 seconds. Investigators relied on a single, poor-quality surveillance video and witness testimony — some of which had to be compelled through subpoenas.

Sanchez, holding his 1½-year-old son, was standing in line for food samples with his wife when French, without warning or provocation, knocked Sanchez and the child to the ground. Seconds later, prosecutors said, Sanchez fired 10 rounds from his handgun, believing his life and his son's life were in immediate danger from an active shooter.

Four bullets struck French in the back and shoulder, one struck his mother in the stomach and another hit his father in the back, Corona police Chief George Johnstone 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, Hestrin said, noting that Sanchez's claim of being knocked unconscious was 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, of Riverside, had been taken off his medication because of other health complications, which may have affected his behavior that night, Galipo has said.

The family has filed a claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against Sanchez and the Los Angeles Police Department. Galipo said he plans to file a federal lawsuit within the next month.

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Associated Press Writer John Antczak contributed to this story.