Costco Shooting Trial
By KRISTY RAMIREZ
City News Service
INDIO – An ex-cop created a false narrative in his head and acted unreasonably when he fatally shot a developmentally disabled man in a Corona Costco and critically wounded the victim’s parents, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday, but a defense attorney said his client only had seconds to react after being “brutally, violently and unexpectedly” knocked to the ground while holding his son.
Salvador Alejandro Sanchez, 33, of Corona, is charged with voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm, according to court records. 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, all 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 of Sanchez’s trial Wednesday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Deputy Attorney General Michael Murphy told jurors Sanchez created a false narrative and failed to assess the situation before using deadly force, leaving the victim dead and his parents with life-changing injuries.
The French family was shopping at the store when they stopped at a food sample table, where the defendant was also standing, holding his 20-month- old son, Murphy said. 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,” Murphy said. “The defendant also shot Kenneth’s mother and Kenneth’s father as they were trying to protect their son from being shot.”
Sanchez later told police he opened fire at the family because he believed that he had been shot, Murphy said. The prosecutor insisted that evidence in the trial will show that no reasonable person in that position would have jumped to such a conclusion, and Sanchez’s decision to shoot at the family was not a justifiable act of self-defense.
Murphy told jurors Sanchez chose to take a gun, loaded with 13 bullets, into the store and that by loading that gun, he made it ready to fire with just a pull of the trigger.
While on the ground after being struck on the back of the head, 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, Murphy said. 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.
The remaining four stray bullets were lodged in display cases and didn’t strike anyone else, according to Murphy. When police responded to the store to assess the situation, the defendant and French family were all lying on the ground.
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 said. He added that Sanchez requested to be taken to a hospital, where a doctor found no injuries on the defendant, but still diagnosed him with a concussion due to Sanchez’s claim that he lost consciousness after being hit on the back of the head.
Sanchez’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, told jurors his client was punched so hard on his temple, unexpectedly and unprovoked while holding his son, that a witness said she saw his head hit the concrete and heard it make a thunk noise.
Once that occurred, Sanchez had three seconds to figure out what just happened, if he was hurt, if his son was hurt, where the threat was, who the threat was, and what he needed to do, according to Schwartz. He then showed jurors a video from the day of the shooting, in which the victim is seen being pushed away by his father.
“What the evidence will show is that this shooting was not a random shooting where Mr. and Mrs. French got hit by random bullets,” Schwartz said. “Both jumped in the way of Kenneth French, understandably to save their son.”
Sanchez had limited time to stop the threat and didn’t see the parents because he had tunnel vision due to his fear for himself and his son, according to Schwartz. Additionally, the gun he shot with was a semi-automatic handgun, which has the ability to fire 13 rounds in just a few seconds.
He concluded his opening statement by telling jurors that evidence will show his client did not act unlawfully, saying he was knocked to the ground while in “parental bliss,” and in three seconds he acted to defend himself and his screaming son.
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 the Costco shooting was an unjustifiable use of force, and Sanchez was fired from the LAPD.
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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