When off-duty Los Angeles police officer Salvador Sanchez fatally shot 32-year-old Kenneth French and injured his parents after the intellectually disabled man punched Sanchez in the Costco deli in Corona in 2019, Sanchez not only panicked, he also invented a story intended to show that he acted reasonably and therefore to avoid criminal charges, a prosecutor said Tuesday (December 26).
Videos of Sanchez’s statements to authorities immediately after the shooting and two months later revealed his “lies,” Assistant Attorney General Mike Murphy said during closing arguments in Sanchez’s voluntary manslaughter trial at the Larson Justice Center in India.
Sanchez is also on trial on two counts of assault with a firearm for injuring Russell and Paola French. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“He told police he had been shot in the head, that he thought Kenneth was crouched down, and that he thought Kenneth was armed with a gun. But none of these beliefs were true. Nor do they result from a reasonable interpretation of the circumstances. Rather, they were the result of the defendant’s irrational projection of his own fears and his own inability to reasonably see and hear the facts before his eyes,” Murphy told jurors.
Sánchez told Corona police, who arrived four minutes after the shooting, that he thought he passed out with his 20-month-old son in his arms while he and the French stood in line for sausage samples. He thought he woke up to see Kenneth in a fighting stance. Sanchez, as French’s parents pushed their son away and begged them not to shoot, fired his service weapon 10 times.
Sanchez was not in uniform.
Murphy said Sanchez should not have fired within 3 to 4 seconds of the shot, according to testimony.
“The defendant needed to take a few moments to see if he had been shot and realize that he had not, and a moment to reasonably assess the situation, watch and hear what was happening in front him and realize that the French had not presented a response. threat at that time. This is what a reasonable person would have done in such circumstances. A reasonable person would not have decided that he was necessary to fire 10 rounds into a Costco, kill Kenneth French and shoot his parents,” Murphy said.
Sanchez’s statements and actions when police arrived after the shooting reflected clear thinking and were not those of someone who had lost consciousness, Murphy said. Sánchez clearly answered the police’s questions and did not appear disoriented. He was not injured, Murphy told jurors.
At the scene, Sanchez told officers that “I saw a flash and I felt my head fall,” according to body-worn camera video. He did not tell officers he saw a gun, Murphy said.
But two months later, in a videotaped statement to investigators with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Sanchez said, “I saw someone hold a gun to my head.” The pain I felt was absolutely burning. I thought I had been shot. I was shot.” The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue the case after the county grand jury declined to indict Sanchez.
Murphy, of the state attorney general’s office, which filed the criminal case, said statements that someone was holding a gun and thought he had been shot were evidence that Sanchez was building a new story.
But Sanchez’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, said that two months later, everyone knew French was unarmed and that statement was not a lie, but simply a recollection of Sanchez.
Schwartz began his closing argument Tuesday evening and was scheduled to resume it Wednesday morning.
He said it was unreasonable for Murphy to say Sanchez should have taken more time to assess the situation.
“The prosecution asserts that they must confirm the necessity of deadly force before using it,” Schwartz said. “That sounds good. It flies in the face of the reality of the situation. You don’t have time right now to confirm the actual threat. Here’s the kicker. If the beliefs were reasonable, there is no need that the danger actually exists. Confirming it is actually the opposite of what the law says. If the danger was real, i.e. Ken French had a gun, and you take the time to confirm, you are dead.
California Daily Newspapers