On June 14, 2019 Kenneth French, a young man with disabilities, was shot and killed by an off-duty LAPD officer while shopping with his family at a Costco in Corona, California. His parents were also shot and wounded in the altercation. After several months of investigation, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office made an announcement on September 25, 2019 that they declined to bring charges against Officer Sanchez stating that a Riverside County grand jury decided that criminal charges against the officer were not warranted.
Given the information that is known to the public, the failure to indict Officer Sanchez on criminal charges raises several questions and concerns for the disability community. Among the most pressing of the concerns is the immediate use of deadly force within a few seconds of an initial altercation with Kenneth. Causing additional concern is the statement made by the officer’s attorney that the officer had “no choice but to use deadly force”. That this is somehow the only choice, when Kenneth was unarmed and his parents were reportedly telling the officer that their son has a disability and begging the officer not to shoot, is absurdity. Without accountability, this tragedy reconfirms a message our community hears far too often: that this behavior is acceptable and excusable because it was a person with a disability who did not “respond” appropriately. We cannot continue to lose members of our community as a result of the criminalization of disability.
The statistics are frightening as they relate to the high rate of fatal encounters between law enforcement and people with disabilities. Some statistics suggest that between one third and one half of fatal law enforcement encounters involve a person with a disability. Regardless of disability type – intellectual, developmental, physical or mental health – people have a right to be in the community without fear of being shot because they cannot or do not respond to law enforcement in a certain or expected manner. Kenneth’s death is a senseless tragedy that magnifies the troubling divide between the disability community and law enforcement as well as the urgent need for officer training related to disability and the use of de-escalation techniques.
The Arc of California has made it a priority to build relationships with the law enforcement community, including promoting The Arc’s Pathways To Justice initiative, and sponsoring SB 338, which was signed into law with support from the law enforcement community and will create a detailed plan for law enforcement to prevent and respond to victimization of people with disabilities. We know that the acts of a few do not represent the whole, which is why we hope law enforcement agencies throughout the state will equally reach out to The Arc and other disability organizations to learn more about our community and how we can work together to make the community safer for people with all types of disabilities. Our deepest condolences to the French Family.