A former Los Angeles police officer whom authorities in Riverside County declined to charge after he fatally shot an intellectually disabled man and wounded his parents at the Costco in Corona will stand trial on charges brought by the state after a judge ruled Monday, Aug. 15, that there was sufficient evidence that the volley of 10 shots was not fired in self-defense.
Salvador Alejandro Sanchez, 31, was charged by the state Attorney General’s Office with voluntary manslaughter in the June 14, 2019 death of Kenneth French, 32, and two counts of assault with a firearm in the shooting of Russell French, now 61, and Paola French, 62. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“After hearing conflicting testimony from witnesses, the court reviewed the law of imperfect self-defense, the court reviewed the law of self-defense, the court reviewed the law of defense of others, the court also reviewed the law on voluntary manslaughter and even of involuntary manslaughter,” Superior Court Judge Samuel Diaz Jr. said before setting Sanchez’s re-arraignment for Aug. 29.
Sanchez’s attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, cross-examined prosecution witnesses but did not call any witnesses of his own during the three-day hearing in Riverside nor make a closing argument to Diaz. Testimony showed that Kenneth French knocked down Sanchez with a hard, unprovoked punch to the back of his head as Sanchez held his young child.
After the hearing, in an interview, Schwartz noted the far lower standard of proof required at preliminary hearings than at trials.
“If these cases have shown us anything historically, it’s that people should withhold any determination until all the facts come out at trial,” he said.
When Sanchez was charged in August 2021, an investigator for the state wrote: “A reasonable and objective fact-finder would likely conclude that nothing about the aforementioned circumstances would make it appear to a reasonable person — particularly one with knowledge similar to Sanchez’s as a trained police officer — that he or she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury after being struck and that firing a gun at Kenneth French was necessary to prevent further injury.”
But Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, despite later saying “I could not clear this officer of any wrongdoing,” declined to file charges and instead asked the Grand Jury to examine the case, partly because of the panel’s authority to subpoena witnesses who wouldn’t talk to DA investigators. The Grand Jury then did not indict Sanchez.
Hestrin denied giving Sanchez preferential treatment. Corona police never arrested Sanchez, who identified himself as a police officer at the scene. An officer’s body-worn camera video showed that Sanchez initially identified French as the shooter and did not immediately say he fired as well.
Sanchez was off duty and not in uniform that night in Costco when he, the Frenches and others stood in line for sausage samples in the deli section. Testimony showed that Kenneth French walked behind Sanchez and without a word, slugged him. Sanchez would later tell investigators that he “saw a flash” and thought he had been shot.
Juan David Canchon testified Monday that after hearing gunfire, he saw French clinching his fists.
“He seemed angry. He had like a face of anger,” Canchon told Schwartz.
Canchon’s testimony, like that of other witnesses, conflicted with what he had told the Grand Jury in 2021 and police in 2019. He previously said he saw the punch and saw Sanchez deliberately set his child down, but Monday said he didn’t see either of those events. Witnesses cited the passage of time for the differing accounts.
“I wasn’t in the best state of mind” after witnessing the chaos, Canchon explained.
Paola French testified Monday that she saw her son, who sometimes does not speak, move someone out of the way.
Then she saw a man on the floor pointing a gun and heard him say he was a police officer.
“I was pleading, ‘Please don’t shoot, please don’t shoot,’ ” French testified, her voice choking up and the pitch rising significantly. “Then he shot me first. Then my son. I couldn’t make sense of what just happened. … I was in a state of shock.”
French said she spent more than two months in a hospital. After answering questions from Schwartz, she retreated to the gallery, where she embraced her son Kevin and sobbed loudly.
For the second time during the hearing, Schwartz complained to Diaz that French family members were harassing Sanchez’s wife outside the courtroom. The judge again ordered deputies to escort both parties out of the courthouse after the hearing.