Monday, June 17, 2019

Off-duty officer kills non-verbal man, injures parents in Costco

By Louise Kinross

This is a horrifying story for all of us in the disability community who love someone who doesn't speak, and may not be able to comply with police orders in conventional ways.

On Friday night, Kenneth French, 32 (in photo above right, with his parents), was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in a California Costco store. The officer also shot and critically injured French's parents, who were grocery shopping with him.

Police, speaking to reporters just after the incident, said it happened after an argument between two men. According to this news release from the Corona Police Department, "Without provocation, a male unknown to the officer's family assaulted the officer while the officer was holding his young child. This attack resulted in the officer firing his weapon, striking the male and two of the male's family members." The child was not injured.

However, French's cousin, Rick Shureih, told the Los Angeles Times that French was nonverbal and had an intellectual disability, so a verbal argument wasn't a possibility. 

"Speaking about his cousin, Shureih told the paper, 'He was a gentle giant...He's never been violent in the past. He's always been very cooperative and kept to himself.' Shureih said it's possible his cousin may have bumped into someone but he wouldn't have been able to communicate that he was sorry."

Police have not named the officer involved, who was released from hospital with minor injuries. 

This BBC piece 'Don't shoot, I'm disabled,' looks at the hundreds of people with disabilities who are killed by police in the United States each year, because they don't respond in conventional ways to police commands. It could be a person who is deaf, or mentally ill, or who, like French, has an intellectual disability.

In a more recent Los Angeles Times piece, we learned that the French family was from Toronto. "Sandra Serrao, who lives in the Toronto area and has been friends with the French family for more than a decade, said the couple and Kenneth moved to California from Mississauga a few years ago to help care for [their] elderly parents...She said Kenneth French was not the type of person to provoke anyone..."