Corona Costco Case Goes to Jury
By KRISTY RAMIREZ
City News Service
INDIO – Jurors began deliberating Wednesday in the trial of a former Los Angeles police officer suspected of fatally shooting a developmentally disabled man and critically wounding the victim’s parents in the Corona Costco.
Salvador Alejandro Sanchez, 33, of Corona, is charged with voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm. He additionally faces sentence-enhancing allegations of using a firearm and causing great bodily injury.
The charges stem from a shooting that 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 of Corona, were wounded.
Sanchez, who was an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer at the time of the shooting, is free on a $155,000 bond.
During opening statements, prosecutors said the French family was shopping at the store when they stopped at a food sample table, where the defendant was also standing holding his son, and for unknown reasons Kenneth French punched the defendant in the back of the head and stepped back from him.
“Within seconds, the defendant pulled out a gun and shot Kenneth four times in the back, killing him,” Deputy Attorney General Michael Murphy said. “The defendant also shot Kenneth’s mother and Kenneth’s father as they were trying to protect their son from being shot.”
But in his closing argument Wednesday morning at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Sanchez’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, told jurors that Sanchez was unexpectedly punched in the back of the head so hard that he felt as though he was shot, and acted in self defense.
Schwartz said Sanchez only had a few seconds to react to the danger because the most vulnerable person in the area was his son. Sanchez was injured, feared the possibility of his son also being injured, and if he had taken time to confirm whether or not Kenneth French had a gun and he did end up having one, he would have been dead by the time he found out.
The attorney said Sanchez had no intention of shooting the victim dead, just until he was down and knew the threat was over, adding that his client still had three bullets that weren’t fired.
Murphy rebutted the argument by telling jurors that it was undisputed Kenneth French punched the defendant and that he shouldn’t have done that, but the defendant also drew his gun and shot 10 rounds.
Murphy added that no injury or bruises ever appeared on the defendant and that his fear of hypothetical scenarios like the threat to his son was not sufficient to justify the deadly shooting because no reasonable person would have done what he did.
When someone chooses to carry a gun, they also choose to carry the power of life and death, which requires great responsibility because they have an obligation to make a reasonable assessment before aiming a gun and shooting it at a human being, Murphy said Tuesday at the beginning of his closing argument.
A reasonable person in Sanchez’s position, after being struck in the back of the head, would have said something like “What the heck?” before feeling the back of their head to see if there was an injury, Murphy said.
“This did not need to happen for self protection or to defend his son and it shouldn’t have happened,” Murphy said. “The defendant needed only to take a few moments to check himself to see if he had a gunshot wound and realize that he did not.”
During opening statements, Murphy said that Sanchez chose to take a gun, loaded with 13 bullets, into the store. He added that the victim’s parents pleaded with the defendant to not shoot their son because he was sick, but Sanchez ignored their pleas, aimed his gun at them and pulled the trigger. Paula French was shot first, once in the stomach, her husband was hit once on his side and their son was shot four times in the back, Murphy said.
Kenneth French was taken out of the store in a body bag and his parents were taken for emergency treatment while the defendant was seen in an officer’s body-worn camera video being escorted out without assistance, Murphy added.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office in September 2019 took the matter to a 19-member county grand jury, and the panel declined to indict Sanchez, culminating in the California Department of Justice ultimately filing charges.
In the summer of 2020, the Los Angeles Police Commission determined that the Costco shooting was an unjustifiable use of force, and Sanchez was fired.
The French family filed a lawsuit against the department, 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.
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