S.E. Williams

A compromised leader can ruin the efficacy of the agency he/she is elected to lead, be damaging  to a community’s trust in the office, and can often be extremely costly to taxpayers.

This is a lesson both Riverside County residents and Los Angeles County taxpayers were forced to learn once again on Wednesday, October 28, when a federal jury ordered the city of Los Angeles and a former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer to pay $17 million in damages to the family of Kenneth French. 

The 32-year-old mentally disabled man was shot and killed in July 2019, by the off-duty LAPD officer inside a Costco store in the City of Corona in Riverside County.

This time it is Los Angeles, and not Riverside county taxpayers who are on the hook for the $17 million, but no taxpayer would ever be liable if all deputies and police would value human life, stop shooting people indiscriminately, and stop operating as if, because they wear a badge, they are above the law. 

District attorneys for their part, should stop covering up such misdeeds by failing to charge officers with crimes when they inappropriately use excessive force. Afterall, it is not as if such actions are benign— they too often result in serious injury or death.

District attorney investigations of police shootings often end with no action being taken against the officer involved. And just as it is really no secret, sheriff and police unions heavily fund the campaigns of sheriffs, they also heavily fund the campaigns of district attorneys, as they did the campaign of Riverside District Attorney Mike Hestrin. 

“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. No matter who you are, nobody is above the law.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta

It is never surprising when Hestrin, like so many other district attorneys across the country, refuses to file criminal charges against an officer nor was it so this time around when the grand jury chose not to indict and Hestrin declined to file. Grand juries make decisions based on what evidence is presented to them and in this case with Hestrin’s office presenting the evidence, is it any wonder the outcome was—as usual—predictable?  

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, however, saw the case differently and in August charged the now ex-LAPD police officer, Salvador Sanchez, with voluntary manslaughter and assault with a semiautomatic firearm. Sanchez was subsequently arrested and is now awaiting trial.

According to court documents, Sanchez was shopping at the Costco with his family and holding his 1½ year-old son in his arms in June 2019, when Kenneth French struck him from behind.

Kenneth’s parents, Russell and Paola French, tried to intervene on their son’s behalf explaining to the off- duty officer, Sanchez, that their son was schizophrenic and also had a mental disability. “I begged and told him not to shoot,” Russell explained to reporters soon after the 2019 incident, claiming he told Sanchez they were unarmed. “He still shot.”

Sanchez shot Russell in the chest and he also lost a kidney. His wife, Paola, was shot in the back and remained comatose for what was defined as an extended period. And their son, Kenneth, died after being shot once in the shoulder and three times in his back.

Kenneth French was shot and killed and his parents, Paola and Russell French, were shot and seriously injured by then off- duty LAPD officer Salvador Sanchez at a Costco in Corona, CA in June 2019. Sanchez has since been terminated by LAPD. (mobiletwitter.com)

Sanchez was fired by theLAPD in July 2020 after the Board of Police Commissioners found he had violated LAPD policy.

However, in August 2021, immediately following the grand jury decision not to recommend charges, DA Hestin proclaimed at a news conference that he would not charge Sanchez stating, “It’s a difficult case.”

Obviously, it was, at least for Hestrin anyway, since his office obviously failed to present compelling enough evidence to the grand jury for it to recommend charges. Again, not surprising for a District Attorney like Hestrin whose political fortunes rest with not angering his police and sheriff union patrons.

Obviously, the Los Angeles Police Commissioners and Attorney General Bonta were able to see what Hestrin chose not to see and instead chose to hide the grand jurors for cover—that felony charges were indeed warranted in Sanchez’s use of deadly force against the French family.

As explained by Bonta when he announced the state was pursuing charges against Sanchez, “Where there’s reason to believe a crime has been committed, we will seek justice.” According to Bonta, that is exactly what the Sanchez case is about, “pursuing justice after an independent and thorough review of the evidence and the law.” 

It is time Riverside County has a District Attorney willing  to do the same. As Bonta stressed, “[B]eing licensed to carry a gun doesn’t mean you’re not accountable for how you use it. No matter who you are, nobody is above the law.”

Riverside needs a District Attorney who applies the law equally to everyone—including deputies and police.

Hestrin is continuing to show himself a true, Trump-flavored-Kool-Aid drinking Republican who not only refused to bring charges in this case. but was also very vocal about alleged problems with the 2020 election in true “Big Lie” fashion.  

In 2022, Riverside County voters will have an opportunity to elect a District Attorney willing to apply the law fairly to everyone and not just appease those who wear badges and donate to his/her political campaign above the law.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.