The family of a mentally disabled man who was gunned down in a California Costco by an off-duty police officer is speaking out, saying they pleaded with the officer not to shoot their son.
Kenneth French, 32, was shot to death June 14 and both his parents were seriously wounded after off-duty police officer Salvador Sanchez opened fire on the family after an incident at a sample table.
Sanchez’s attorney has said the Los Angeles police officer “had no other option” after fearing for his life and the life of his 18-month old son and committed a justifiable homicide; however, French’s family said they had been walking away and divulged their son’s mental health status before the shooting took place, according to ABC News.
"I begged and told him not to shoot," Russell French said at a news conference Monday. "I said we have no guns and my son is sick. He still shot."
The family has filed a claim with the city of Los Angeles against Sanchez, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the City of Los Angeles after the shooting, the East Bay Times reports. The claim contends negligence, battery, and wrongful death.
The family’s attorney Dale Galipo said the incident began while Kenneth was shopping in a Corona, California Costco with his parents, Russell and Paola.
The trio had been shopping in the store for about 30 to 40 minutes when they approached a sample table with sausages. Sanchez was also at the sample table, holding his young son.
Galipo said Paola has claimed her son pushed or shoved Sanchez while at the table; however, other witnesses have describe the interaction as a punch and said the force temporarily sent Sanchez “to the ground,” Galipo said.
After the physical altercation between the pair, Sanchez announced that he was a police officer and pulled out a gun.
The French family says they pleaded with Sanchez not to shoot, telling the officer that their son, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was largely non-verbal, had mental health issues.
Galipo said Paulo shouted, “Please don’t shoot. Please don’t shoot.”
Sanchez opened fire and struck all three family members. In a statement from the law firm representing the family, it said the couple was shot in the back suggesting they “were not facing Officer Sanchez’ direction at the time they were shot,” KTLA reports.
Paola was shot in the back with a bullet that exited her stomach and put the woman in a coma, Galipo said. Russell was shot in his stomach by a bullet that grazed his pancreas and hit a vein. Both parents required multiple surgeries after the shooting.
Kenneth died from internal bleeding after being shot twice in the back, Galipo said. The 32-year-old also had gunshot wounds to the armpit and shoulder area, but it is not clear whether those were separate injuries or exit or entrance wounds.
“Not only did we lose our first-born son, my husband and I sustained injuries that will impact our lives forever,” Paola said through tears Monday.
Kevin French, Kenneth’s brother, said Monday that Sanchez had “killed my gentle, loving brother.” He voiced anger that authorities let Sanchez leave the scene the day of the shooting and said the officer was allowed to return the next day to watch the store’s surveillance footage before making his statement.
The family has never seen the footage and has urged authorities to release the video of the shooting.
Galipo called the shooting “egregious” and contended that Sanchez should have tried to de-escalate the situation before using fatal force.
“Shooting Kenneth, in our view, was completely excessive and unnecessary,” he said, according to ABC News. “Shooting his parents was outrageous.”
Sanchez’s attorney Ira Salzman, however, has argued that the shooting was “justifiable homicide under the California penal code.”
David Winslow, another attorney representing the police office, said that “without warning or provocation” Sanchez had been “violently attacked from behind” and said the police officer was knocked to the ground so hard he suffered a concussion.
Salzman contends his client shot Kenneth because he was afraid for his life.
“He faced Mr. French and reasonably believed that his son’s life, that he was holding in his arms, and his life were in mortal danger,” he said. “He had no other option but to deploy deadly force.”
The Los Angeles Police Department is conducting an internal investigation into the shooting. Spokesman Joshua Rubenstein said Sanchez has been “assigned home” during the ongoing investigation, KTLA reports.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Attorney’s Office, said the city is currently reviewing the claim filed by the family. If the claim is rejected by the city, the Frenches will have the ability to file a lawsuit.
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