An off-duty Los Angeles police officer who shot and killed an unarmed, apparently developmentally disabled man in a confrontation in a Costco in June will not face criminal charges for his actions.
A grand jury declined to indict Salvador Sanchez for shooting and killing David French, 32, after the two of them had a brief and vague fight in a Costco in Corona, California.
French was apparently the aggressor, but he was unarmed. According to multiple accounts of the incident, French, with no provocation, struck Sanchez on the back of the head while they were waiting in line at a food sample station. Sanchez says he was holding his infant son in his arms when he was knocked down suddenly and briefly knocked out. His lawyer, David Winslow, said that when Sanchez reawakened, he believed he was "fighting for his life."
Sanchez fired 10 shots, killing French and critically injuring French's parents.
After the encounter, French's family came forward to explain that French was nonverbal, intellectually disabled, and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Family members said French had no history of violence but had recently been prescribed a new medication.
A security camera in Costco captured part of the encounter, but a court order barred its release until a grand jury decided against an indictment on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the video, which can be viewed here, is not terribly illuminating. It does not show Sanchez shooting French, but it does show French and a family member falling—likely his father, who said he attempted to intervene between his son and Sanchez—to the floor as Sanchez, off-screen to the left, shoot at them.
It is worth noting that the video appears to show the Frenches as moving away from Sanchez and not attempting to move aggressively toward him. And Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin has said that less than four seconds elapsed between the point where French knocked Sanchez down and Sanchez got up and began shooting. Today, the Los Angeles Times reports that Sanchez was 20 feet away from the men when he began shooting, while still sitting on the floor after being knocked down.
Hestrin could decide to prosecute Sanchez even without the grand jury indictment. But he does not intend to, because 12 of the 19 members of the grand jury said they didn't see enough evidence to justify charges.
Meanwhile, the LAPD is doing its own administration investigation to determine whether Sanchez's decisions were appropriate under department policy.
Everybody involved in the shooting sees this as a tragedy, and nobody is arguing that French deserved to be shot and killed. The question is whether Sanchez's use of lethal force was justified given the situation.
Would this response be the same if Sanchez were not a police officer? California political leaders are quick to implement tight gun controls and to give officials the power to seize citizens' weapons. It's hard to fathom a Californian who is not part of law enforcement getting to shoot an unarmed man in a massive store while people ran away screaming without so much as a slap on the wrist.