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$17.2M Verdict for Off-Duty Police Officer’s Excessive Force and Fatal Shooting

It was the Friday evening before Father’s Day. Salvador Sanchez, an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer, shopped at a Costco in Corona, California, with his family. Simultaneously, Kenneth French, a cognitively impaired 32-year-old man, accompanied his parents to the same Costco. Both families stood in line at a food sampling table, with Sanchez in front. Without warning, Kenneth slapped the back of Sanchez’s head, causing him to fall to the floor with his one-year-old son in his arms. Officer Sanchez let go of his child, drew his department-issued handgun, and discharged his weapon at the family.

Russel French and his wife, Paola, shielded their son and begged Sanchez not to shoot, explaining Kenneth was intellectually disabled. Sanchez fired ten shots into the crowded store. Russel and Paola were each hit in the back once; Kenneth was fatally shot four times. Sanchez remained on the ground and announced himself as an LAPD officer when the local police department arrived. He asserted he thought Kenneth was an active shooter, that he was shot in the head, and that he had lost consciousness. Police found no weapons at the scene, aside from Sanchez’s gun.

Russel and Paola were rushed to a nearby hospital and induced into comas. Both parents’ internal organs were maimed, requiring extensive surgeries and the use of colostomy bags. When Russel and Paola awoke, their souls were crushed when they found out Kenneth had died at the scene. Even after they were released home, every news outlet covered the incident, forcing them to relive the horrific shooting repeatedly. The French family retained Dale K. Galipo, Eric Valenzuela, and Renée Valentine Masongsong of the Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo, a Los Angeles firm specializing in civil rights and police misconduct cases.

More than a year after the shooting, Dale, Eric, and Renée subpoenaed the investigative materials from the Corona Police Department and requested that Costco release the surveillance footage. Unfortunately, there was only one CCTV camera pointed toward where the shooting occurred, and it was located on the other side of the store. As a result, the audio was garbled, and the video was incredibly pixelated. It failed to capture the shooting clearly. A favorable verdict would have been hard to achieve if the security camera video was all a jury saw. The attorneys needed something to contextualize the video to help viewers understand the gravity of the grainy footage. Thus, they contacted DK Global to reconstruct the incident with an animation of what occurred.

To safeguard the animation's admissibility, the attorneys called on Dr. Bennet Omalu (the renowned forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy in football players) to examine the evidence, describe the bullets’ trajectories, and explain the Plaintiffs’ resulting damages. Dr. Omalu collaborated with DK Global’s animators to verify that the visual supported his testimony.

The animation began with a photo of the French family. Next, the Costco’s interior was recreated and showed 3D models of Kenneth, Paola, and Russel shopping. Kenneth waited behind Officer Sanchez and slapped the back of his head unexpectedly. Sanchez dropped to the floor and unholstered his gun. Russel and Paola stood in the way and explained Kenneth’s condition to deescalate the situation. The grainy surveillance footage was juxtaposed to the animation as it replayed, clarifying the sequence of events: Russel led Kenneth down a chilled food aisle to create distance from Officer Sanchez. As Sanchez aimed, Paola jumped in front of her husband and son to shield them. The first shots fired, causing the husband and wife to fall. Then, the officer lethally shoots Kenneth. Finally, the bullets’ trajectories were recreated using Dr. Omalu’s direction, the medical records, and the forensic evidence collected at the scene.

As the trial commenced, Dale, Eric, and Renée employed a strategy typically used by the defense: they filed a motion requesting the judge be the sole determiner of liability based on the facts and matter of law. The judge agreed, stating Officer Sanchez’s deadly force was unwarranted and negligent. This ruling allowed the jury to focus on the Plaintiffs’ damages.

Dr. Omalu was called to the stand on the last day of direct examination. The jury sat on the edge of their seats as he described the bullet trajectories. Then, he concluded with the DK Global animation. Dale fervently delivered his closing arguments and asserted the City of Los Angeles needed to take responsibility for Officer Sanchez’s actions. The jury returned with a verdict in just a couple of hours, finding Officer Sanchez and the City of Los Angeles responsible for the shooting. $17,200,000 was awarded to Russel and Paola French for their injuries and the loss of their son.

Dale K. Galipo has been an attorney for 32 years and is regarded as one of the most accomplished civil rights lawyers. Initially focusing on personal injury and criminal defense, Dale shifted his specialty to representing those involved in civil rights cases against the police. Dale has obtained nearly 100 seven-figure verdicts and settlements, prevailing in more than 50 jury trials in the last eight years.

Since 2012, Senior Associate Eric Valenzuela has specialized in litigating civil rights and police misconduct cases, contributing to numerous multi-million-dollar verdicts. Recently, Super Lawyers selected Eric as a “Rising Star” for successfully litigating complex excessive force cases involving novel law issues.

For ten years, Renée Valentine Masongsong has dedicated her practice to litigating civil rights police excessive force cases, attaining numerous multi-million-dollar jury verdicts. In 2020 alone, Renée prevailed in holding the cities of Los Angeles and West Covina responsible for serious police misconduct, securing her clients a combined $8 million in settlements and verdicts.

"I would really urge the trial lawyers, my brothers and sisters out there, about using an animation...It's going to enhance the [case's] value. If it's going to trial, it's a great thing to have."
Dale K. Galipo - Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo
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