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An off-duty officer shot a man with an intellectual disability at Costco. He has been charged with manslaughter.

Shoppers walk into a Costco store in March 2021. An off-duty Los Angeles police officer was charged with manslaughter this week after fatally shooting a disabled man inside a Costco in 2019. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Kenneth French and his parents were shopping at a Costco in Corona, Calif., in June 2019 when French, a 32-year-old with an intellectual disability, allegedly slapped an off-duty Los Angeles police officer in the head while standing in line for food samples.

The officer, Salvador Sanchez, who was holding his baby, then took out his department-issued handgun and fired approximately 10 times, killing French, injuring French’s parents and sending bullets flying through the crowded wholesale store, according to a lawsuit the family filed in February 2020.

Although the Los Angeles Police Department fired Sanchez, a Riverside County grand jury in 2019 declined to criminally indict the officer. But California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) announced Monday that he had filed manslaughter and assault charges against Sanchez.

“Ultimately, any loss of life is a tragedy and being licensed to carry a gun doesn’t mean you’re not accountable for how you use it,” Bonta said in a statement. “No matter who you are, nobody is above the law.”

Sanchez was arrested Monday morning in Riverside County, the California attorney general’s office said in a news release. His bail was set at $155,000, the Los Angeles Times reported. He is due in court on Wednesday.

David Winslow, Sanchez’s attorney, told The Washington Post in an email that the charges amount to a “political stunt that does absolutely nothing to protect the public.”

“The Riverside Grand Jury heard all the evidence in this matter and concluded there was no basis for any criminal issues,” Winslow said.

“Sal Sanchez was holding his baby when he was violently attacked and knocked to the ground along with his baby,” he added. “He was also knocked unconscious momentarily. At the time of the incident he believed he was protecting himself and his baby from being killed.”

According to body-camera footage following the incident, Sanchez told Corona police that he thought French had a gun and had shot him — so he shot French. He later described to investigators the gun he said French was holding as a “small black compact firearm,” KNBC reported. But an LAPD investigation concluded that no witnesses saw a gun in French’s hand and no firearm was recovered at the scene, the news station reported.

The LAPD also concluded that Sanchez was about 20 feet away from French when he fired, the Times reported. And a civil rights lawsuit filed by French’s parents, Paola and Russell, in February 2020 claims that the three family members were “moving away” from Sanchez when he shot at them. Kenneth French was shot in the back, the lawsuit says.

Bonta’s predecessors in California have been criticized for failing to file charges in high-profile police shootings.

Former California attorney general Xavier Becerra, now the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, sparked protests in 2019 when he declined to file charges against the Sacramento police officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed Black man, in his grandmother’s backyard in 2018.

Kamala D. Harris, who preceded Becerra, declined to initiate an investigation after Anaheim police fatally shot Manuel Diaz, an unarmed 25-year-old, in the back in July 2012. She likewise declined calls to investigate the shooting death of Mario Romero the same year in Vallejo, Calif.

By contrast, Bonta has promised to be more aggressive on criminal justice reform. Although the California attorney general is required to investigate police shootings of unarmed civilians under a new state law, Bonta made it clear on Monday that he is bringing the charges by way of the state constitution.

“Where there’s reason to believe a crime has been committed, we will seek justice,” Bonta said. “That’s exactly what these charges are about: pursuing justice after an independent and thorough review of the evidence and the law.”

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