CORONA, Calif. — The parents of a man with intellectual disability who was fatally shot by an off-duty Los Angeles police officer and seriously wounded themselves in the Corona Costco two months ago have filed a complaint with the city of Los Angeles, a family lawyer said on Monday.

Russell and Paola French spoke publicly for the first time at a news conference in a Corona hotel about the June 14 incident in which their son Kenneth French, 32, died.

They said they pleaded desperately for off-duty Officer Salvador Sanchez, who they say identified himself as a policeman, not to shoot their son after Kenneth either bumped into or struck the officer, who was holding his 18-month-old son at a sample stand in the store.

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The mother struggled Monday because of emotions to talk to reporters.

“My husband and I have sustained injuries that have impacted our lives forever,” she said. “Our lives will never be the same. … “I told Officer Sanchez not to shoot twice,” Paola French said. “I even said ‘please.’ I was pleading for my son and our lives, but he was still shot in the back. What threat did I pose to him?”

Russell French, who needed help to stand from his wheelchair to address reporters, said: “I begged and told him not to shoot. I told him we had no guns, and my son was sick.”

There is no dollar amount sought in the claim filed by the family, attorney Dale Galipo said just before the press conference. The claim is against Sanchez, the Los Angeles Police Department and the City of Los Angeles. It said that Sanchez identified himself before he started shooting.

“Officer Sanchez was acting under color of law as a LAPD police officer at the time of the shooting and was acting in his capacity as a LAPD police officer at the time of the shooting,” the claim says.

“It means he was acting as an officer at the time, and it implicates the city of Los Angeles in the shooting,” Galipo said.

Ira Salzman, an attorney for Sanchez, said Monday his client was assaulted by Kenneth French and said the shooting was a “justifiable homicide under California penal code.”

He said the officer took action after French hit him as Sanchez was holding his 18-month-old son inside the Costco, and that Sanchez suffered a concussion from the blow.

The shooting sent panicked shoppers fleeing to the exits and into a walk-in cooler to hide.

The claim is a first step in filing a lawsuit against a local government. If Los Angeles rejects it, then the Frenches can sue in court. Among the claim’s contentions are negligence, battery and wrongful death.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, said the city is reviewing the claim but had no other comment.

Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, said the department does not comment on legal matters. He said an administrative investigation into Sanchez was ongoing.

“The shooting of Kenneth, Russell and Paola French was unjustified, unreasonable and completely excessive, particularly because neither Kenneth, Russell nor Paola French posed an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to any person, including Officer Sanchez, at the time of the shooting,” the claim says.

Kenneth, who didn’t talk, lived with his parents in the Lake Hills area, east of Corona.

What happened inside the warehouse store at 480 N. McKinley St. in Corona is disputed.

David Winslow, another attorney for Sanchez, had said the shooting happened after the officer was “without warning or provocation …violently attacked from behind.”

He has said the officer and his son were knocked to the floor and the officer was momentarily unconscious, and the shooting started because the officer feared for his son’s life and “believed he was under attack.”

Galipo said Sanchez and the family were at a stand in the store that was handing out sausage samples. “It’s somewhat unclear as to what exactly sparked it… Paola saw it as a push or a shove. Other people have said it was more a strike or a punch to the off-duty police officer.”

Galipo said some witnesses said Sanchez went to the floor. The attorney said none of the witnesses he has talked to indicated Sanchez lost consciousness or appeared to have lost consciousness, as has been claimed by Winslow.

Salzman, also representing Sanchez, said his client “wasn’t pushed or shoved — he was hit so hard that my client suffered a concussion.

“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 had no other option but to deploy deadly force.”

The parents had tried to explain to Sanchez their son’s disability after Kenneth either pushed or struck Sanchez, Galipo said.

The parents’ recollection has them between the officer and their son, the lawyer said. The mom believes she was shot first, then her husband.

“And once they were down, now he had access to Kenneth, who was moving away from him,” Galipo said.

“It’s a horrible tragedy, as both sets of parents were trying to save their child,” Salzman said Monday.

Paola, 59, was shot in the back with the bullet exiting through her stomach. “She was in a coma for an extended period of time and it was unclear if she was going to live or die.” She has has several surgeries and faces more, Galipo said.

Russell, 58, was shot in the abdomen with the bullet entering his right side, with no exit. He lost a kidney and has had complications including infections. He was only released from the hospital a week ago, Galipo said.

Kenneth had two shots to his back according to a preliminary body examination, Galipo said. “There are a couple of gunshot wounds in the area of the left shoulder,” he said. Without an autopsy report, it is difficult to say if those are two separate shots or whether those are entry and exit wounds, he said.

Galipo said he has asked for the autopsy report, but has been told that the case is still under investigation.

Kenneth had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, the family said, He had one issue with medication reaction in the past, but well before the June shooting. “I think nothing, the last six or seven months” regarding medication issues, Russell said.

Kevin French, Kenneth’s brother, said at the press conference that he found out about the shooting a day later. The incident “killed my gentle, loving brother,” he said. Kenneth’s funeral is scheduled for Friday, the family said. It was delayed because his parents needed to recover from their wounds.

The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office has obtained a judge’s order that seals public viewing of a surveillance video of the shooting from anyone but law enforcement for one year from the shooting. The order prevents the Los Angeles Police Department from following its policy of publicly releasing video surveillance of an LAPD shooting within 45 days.

The Riverside prosecutor’s office is reviewing the case to see if charges are warranted.

Galipo said Monday he planned to challenge to judge’s order to seal the surveillance video.

Galipo said Sanchez had returned to the Costco the next day and reviewed the surveillance video. Salzman said Sanchez did not.

After the news conference, the surviving family members described their lives now — neither Paola nor Russell can work, and their son Kevin, who turned 30 Monday, is their caretaker, they said.

Russell has to use a wheelchair for now and said, “my back can’t take my weight because of my injuries, a little bit is OK.” He works as an accountant for a renewable energy company, he said.

“I really can’t do anything for myself,” he said. “I try not to go up and down the steps, so if I come down once and then I have forgotten my medication, then he has to run up for me,” he said of his youngest son.

He can’t have a regular bath out of concern that water contact may bring more infections, he said, and Kevin has to help bathe him.

“Things I could do before June 14 by myself, but now I can’t … that’s not a good feeling, and I don’t like it.”

Kevin said he hasn’t slept in his own bed for more than 2½ months. “I’ve just been taking them to doctors’ appointments, see surgeons, just whatever they need, everyday tasks, medication, his IV, antibiotics, pills… the list just doesn’t end.”

Paola, an information technology analyst for Riverside County, said the event has affected her physically and emotionally. “It’s really hard, and the physical pain is endless. It’s not something I would want on anybody,” she said through tears.

She said Kenneth was bright and athletic in high school and was six months from graduating from McMaster University in Canada when she became seriously ill and he had a lack of coping skills “that caused him to go into his shell.”

She said that was two years before he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

Paola said Kenneth talked of returning to college and was “very keen” about La Sierra University in Riverside. “He was a gem to have around,” she said. “He was our world because, obviously, we cared for his well-being.”

© 2019 The Press-Enterprise
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