LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Riverside couple wounded when an off-duty Los Angeles police officer fatally shot their developmentally disabled son during what the lawman contends was an act of self-defense at a Costco in Corona recalled today pleading with the policeman not to open fire before he unleashed multiple rounds in the crowded store.
``I begged and told him not to shoot. I said, `Our son is sick,''' Russell French told reporters during a news conference at the Ayres Hotel in Corona. ``I said we have no guns. He still shot.''
Russell and Paola French's son, 32-year-old Kenneth French, was killed when Los Angeles Police Department Officer Salvador Sanchez opened fire the night of June 14 inside the Costco after what the officer's attorney described as a life-threatening assault by Kenneth.
``Our son was a peaceful, loving soul,'' Paola French said tearfully. ``He was taken away from us, shot in the back. Our lives will never be the same.''
The couple's attorney, Dale Galipo, announced during the briefing that he had filed damages claims against Sanchez, the LAPD and the city of Los Angeles.
``This officer, as I understand, used a department-issued weapon. He announced that he was a police officer, and he acted on training when he fired those shots,'' Galipo said. ``Shooting someone and their parents when you are pushed -- there's something severely wrong with that training.''
The attorney said the parties have 45 days to answer his claims before he can proceed with a lawsuit.
Galipo reiterated his desire to have the in-store security surveillance video, which captured at least part of the shooting, released to the public. Earlier this month, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office obtained a court order barring release of the video for a year based on potential evidentiary concerns, as prosecutors complete their review of the case, which was turned over to the agency by the Corona Police Department at the end of June.
``They are desperate not to have the video released,'' Galipo said. ``The video should not even be an issue. So why is it not being released? To protect the police officer. There is a lack of transparency.''
The District Attorney's Office released a statement to City News Service, saying ``(we) continue to diligently investigate the evidence in this case, (and if) the family's civil attorney has evidence, either witness statements or video evidence, that could be useful in our review of the case, we would ask and hope that he would provide it to our office.''
Galipo said he's considering filing motions in state or federal court for public release of the video, which the LAPD, after receiving a copy from the Corona Police Department, had intended to do.
The department is conducting an administrative review of Sanchez's actions to determine whether the seven-year Southwest Division patrolman should be terminated. He remains on paid leave.
Galipo said he could not fathom the slow pace of the D.A.'s investigation, believing that, at minimum, a voluntary manslaughter charge should have been filed against Sanchez by now.
``We believe this shooting was egregious,'' he said. ``I've handled several hundred shooting cases, but this is the most egregious. You only use deadly force in a life-threatening situation. Shooting Kenneth French was completely unnecessary. Shooting his parents was outrageous.''
Galipo said he has not been able to acquire autopsy results, but he had seen Kenneth French's body, and the victim suffered two shots to the back and two shots to one shoulder.
Paola French was shot through the back and stomach with a single round. She was in a coma for weeks at Riverside Community Hospital, Galipo said. Her husband suffered a gunshot to the abdomen and lost a kidney because of the life-threatening wound, the attorney said.
He said the parents and their son were moving away from Sanchez, increasing their distance from him when the off-duty cop opened fire. Galipo surmised up to eight rounds were discharged.
According to the attorney, the trio had been shopping for a half-hour when they stopped at a food sample booth in the store to nibble on sausages. Why Kenneth French turned physical with Sanchez, shoving him to the floor while the off-duty officer held his 18-month-old son, is unclear, Galipo acknowledged.
He said the 32-year-old was a diagnosed schizophrenic and nonverbal, with no history of aggression.
Conflicting stories have emerged over the circumstances, with the officer's attorney, David Winslow, insisting his client responded appropriately.
Corona police alleged the day after the shooting that Kenneth French had, ``without provocation, assaulted the officer.''
According to Winslow, Sanchez was knocked to the floor and briefly lost consciousness. When he awoke, he found his son next to him, screaming. Winslow said his client ``had no choice but to use deadly force'' in self- defense. He asserted that French's action amounted to ``a violent attack.''
According to Galipo, witnesses have indicated that Sanchez took the time to hand his son to his wife before pulling his firearm and shooting the French family.
Kevin French, Kenneth's younger brother, told reporters he did not understand how a man could kill his sibling and shoot both his parents, ``then go home that night and sleep on his pillow,'' not being taken into custody on suspicion of murder.
``This has been life-changing, devastating to our family,'' he said. ``I don't want anyone else to go through this pain. It could happen to anyone. I still have faith in the justice system, and I hope that truth will prevail and justice will be served.''
Kenneth French's funeral will be held Friday.