LOS ANGELES (AP) — California’s attorney general has filed manslaughter charges against a former Los Angeles police officer who was off duty when he fatally shot a mentally ill man who was shopping with his parents in 2019.
Officer Salvador Sanchez, who was a seven-year veteran of the LAPD at the time of the shooting, was arrested Monday in Riverside County. He faces one count of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm. The LAPD says he was terminated from the agency in July 2020, but it declined further comment on Sanchez’s arrest.
Sanchez was with his young son in a Costco in Corona when he was attacked from behind by 32-year-old Kenneth French. Sanchez was knocked to the ground and quickly opened fire, fatally wounding French and critically injuring French’s parents, Russell and Paola French.
Sanchez had told investigators he believed French had a gun and that his life and his son’s life were in immediate danger. Authorities said French was not armed and was moving away from Sanchez when the officer opened fire.
Kenneth French was nonverbal and had recently been taken off his medication for mental illness due to other health issues, the family’s lawyer previously said, adding that the change may have affected his behavior that night. French’s parents have filed a federal lawsuit against Sanchez and the city.
The charges filed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta came after the Riverside County district attorney declined to charge Sanchez criminally when a grand jury did not bring an indictment in September 2019.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin previously said Sanchez believed he had been shot in the head and that a gunman was on the loose in the store after he and his 1½-year-old son were knocked to the ground in French’s unprovoked assault.
David Winslow, Sanchez’s attorney, called his client’s arrest a “political stunt that does absolutely nothing to protect the public.”
“The arrest of Sal Sanchez is a product of the politically motivated program by the California Attorney General to prosecute police officers,” Winslow said in a statement Monday. “Sal was not acting as a police officer when he was attacked. He was off duty acting as a father in self-defense and protecting his child.”
Bonta’s office in July announced that state investigators would respond to police fatal shootings of unarmed civilians after lawmakers passed legislation last year amid civil unrest over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer.
“Where there’s reason to believe a crime has been committed, we will seek justice,” Bonta said Monday in a news release. “That’s exactly what these charges are about: pursuing justice after an independent and thorough review of the evidence and the law. Ultimately, any loss of life is a tragedy, and being licensed to carry a gun doesn’t mean you’re not accountable for how you use it. No matter who you are, nobody is above the law.”
The Riverside district attorney’s office said Monday it would assist Bonta’s office in the prosecution, but noted that its own investigation ended when the grand jury did not find enough probable cause to move forward with the case.
The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners ruled last year that Sanchez had violated departmental policy in the shooting.
The French family’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.