Video is likely to be key in determining how a confrontation between an off-duty Los Angeles police officer and a man described by family as mentally disabled ended in a shooting in a Costco warehouse store that killed the man and critically wounded his parents.
The unidentified officer told investigators he opened fire after Kenneth French, 32, of Riverside, attacked him without provocation as the officer held his young child Friday night, according to police in the city of Corona, east of Los Angeles. Neither the officer nor the child was hurt.
Rick Shureih, French’s cousin, told the Press-Enterprise in Riverside that French was gentle and didn’t speak because of a mental condition that started in adulthood. He did not provide details on the condition, but he said French had “to be pretty much monitored” and his cousin’s parents, Russell and Paola French, accompanied him everywhere.
In a Facebook posting Monday, Shureih said the family has gotten “witness accounts that do not match up to the original story.” He declined to provide details, saying the information is confidential. He also said the family is pro-police but wants justice and called on authorities to arrest the officer.
Corona police did not respond to requests for information about what immediately preceded the shooting and whether anyone other than the officer had a weapon.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office issued a statement urging the public to be patient. Once Corona police finish their investigation, prosecutors will review and consider whether to bring criminal charges.
The Los Angeles Police Department is doing an administrative investigation of its officer. He been assigned administrative duties and will not have contact with the public during the investigations, LAPD Officer Norma Eisenman said Monday.
Police have not said if French had any weapons or if the officer identified himself as a police officer before firing.
Witnesses reported seeing an argument between two people near a freezer section when at least six shots rang out. The shooting prompted a stampede of frightened shoppers, some fleeing the store as others sought cover inside.
Video from Costco’s security cameras and shoppers’ cellphones will be critical to the investigations, said Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an expert on police accountability.
Walker said investigators will be primarily looking at whether there was “an immediate threat” to the officer’s life that prompted him to pull out his gun or whether he could have used less-lethal means.
“I find the crowded setting extremely alarming. There’s such a high risk to other people,” Walker said. “There are many ways officers are trained to de-escalate a situation before reaching for a weapon.”
Off-duty officers can carry concealed firearms as long as the guns are authorized for on-duty use, according to the LAPD manual. Whether they’re in uniform, police officers are allowed to use force in self-defense or defense of others if it’s clear there is no alternative, said Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford University’s law school.
However, he said, there’s an obligation on the part of a police officer to avoid a dangerous situation.
Associated Press reporter Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report. Follow Weber at https://twitter.com/WeberCM