A Costco employee talks on the phone following a shooting within the wholesale outlet in Corona, Calif., Friday, June 14, 2019. A gunman opened fire inside the store during an argument, killing a man, wounding two other people and sparking a stampede of terrified shoppers before he was taken into custody, police said. The man involved in the argument was killed and two other people were wounded, Corona police Lt. Jeff Edwards said. (Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG via AP)

California police look to video after deadly Costco shooting

June 17, 2019 - 5:51 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Authorities are poring through video to figure out 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 store that killed the man and critically wounded his parents.

The 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 Corona, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of LA.

The officer was the only one who fired shots, striking French and two family members, police said.

Authorities did not respond Monday to requests for more information about what immediately preceded the shooting and whether anyone but the officer had a weapon.

Rick Shureih, French's cousin, told the Press-Enterprise in Riverside that French was a "gentle giant" who had mental disabilities. He declined to give specifics about French's condition.

French was "non-violent, non-aggressive, non-verbal," Shureih said, and "he has to be pretty much monitored."

"He's not the kind to trade words, so I don't believe that a verbal confrontation happened," Shureih told the newspaper.

He said French's parents, Russell and Paola French, were the others shot and that they were in intensive care Sunday.

Footage 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."

The family is seeking an attorney, said Shureih, who posted a photo of French and his parents on Facebook.

"I'm posting this picture because the stories on social media have made them out to be the suspects, and the off duty cop the victim," Shureih wrote Sunday. "This is a family that was unarmed and was just grocery shopping. Truth will come out! I'm sure this was a misunderstanding that got escalated for no reason!"

Los Angeles police have started an internal investigation, while Corona police and the Riverside County district attorney's office investigate the shooting separately.

The officer, who has not been identified, was treated at a hospital and released, and his child was not injured.

He been assigned administrative duties and will not have contact with the public during the investigations, LAPD Officer Norma Eisenman said Monday. The officer works at the LAPD's Southwest station, she said.

Off-duty officers can carry concealed firearms as long as the guns are authorized for on-duty use, according to the LAPD manual.

Whether or not 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.

What could make a difference in this case is whether French or other shoppers knew the man in the confrontation was a police officer, Weisberg said.

"If they don't know he's a cop, the risk of violence goes way up because customers think, 'Here's a dangerous guy using a gun,' " Weisberg said, adding that there's an obligation on the part of a police officer to avoid a dangerous situation.

Police have not said if French had any weapons or if the officer identified himself as police before firing.

Costco officials didn't respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment.

The shooting prompted a stampede of frightened shoppers, some who fled the store as others sought cover inside.

Witnesses reported seeing an argument between two people near a freezer section when at least six shots rang out.


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Associated Press reporter Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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