LAPD officers who opened fire outside Trader Joe’s won’t be charged in manager’s death
The Los Angeles police officers involved in the accidental killing of a Trader Joe’s manager when they opened fire on a man who was fleeing into the store after a car chase will not face criminal charges in the manager’s death, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said Tuesday.
Melyda Corado, 27, died from a single bullet wound as two police officers exchanged gunfire with Gene Atkins outside the Silver Lake store in July 2018. Police had been pursuing Atkins across the city, and the 29-year-old had fired on them numerous times during the pursuit, which police said began after he had shot his grandmother.
Atkins crashed his car into a light pole outside the Trader Joe’s and fired three rounds at LAPD Officers Sinlen Tse and Sarah Winans, according to a memorandum made public Tuesday by the district attorney’s office. Tse and Winans returned fire with eight shots in total. One round struck Atkins in the elbow, according to the document. Another fatally wounded Corado.
The shooting generated fierce criticism of the LAPD and left the department’s leadership horrified that their actions had led to the death of an innocent bystander. Days after, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the situation was “every officer’s worst nightmare.”
In their filing decision, among the final batch overseen by outgoing Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, prosecutors decided the officers were only reacting to Atkins’ provocations. Atkins, not the officers, was “criminally responsible for Corado’s death,” prosecutors wrote.
“The officers knew the Trader Joe’s store was filled with customers and employees. Tse and Winans returned fire in an attempt to stop Atkins from trying to injure or kill them or civilians in the Trader Joe’s,” the memorandum reads.
The ruling came as little surprise after both the city Police Commission and Moore ruled the officers actions were within policy last year. Corado’s family has sued the city alleging negligence and excessive force, and her older brother, Albert, has become a regular presence at protests against police violence.
“This is what LAPD does. They can fire eight shots into a Trader Joe’s and kill someone and they think that’s just how these things played out,” Albert Corado said Tuesday. “That it’s a tragedy, but unfortunately, that’s the cost of LAPD doing business in the city.”
Newly elected Dist. Atty. George Gascón has said he plans to review a number of fatal use-of-force cases in which Lacey declined to file charges against officers, and Albert Corado said he and his family might contact the new top prosecutor about his sister’s death.
Max Szabo, a spokesman for Gascón’s transition team, said there will be a process for families to seek review of their cases but it has yet to be formally established. Gascón has yet to make a decision on any other cases to review beyond the four shootings he announced would be reevaluated during the campaign, according to Szabo.
Tse and Winans both told investigators they did not see Corado when they opened fire, according to the memorandum, with Tse noting she chose to shoot because she believed Atkins was standing in front of a concrete wall, minimizing the chance she’d wound anyone if she missed.
Corado’s shooting was not captured by the store’s surveillance footage or on the officers’ body-worn cameras, according to the document. Atkins entered the store and took several customers and employees, including the wounded Corado, hostage.
Police did not know Corado had been shot until Atkins told them so during hostage negotiations, according to the memorandum. By that time, nearly 20 minutes had elapsed. Paramedics could not begin rendering aid to Corado until 3:52 p.m., 35 minutes after she was shot, the memorandum read. She died at the scene a short time later.
Investigators determined that a round from Tse’s gun mortally wounded Corado, who was most likely shot “when she was still inside the Trader Joe’s running toward the entrance that Atkins entered,” according to the memorandum.
Last year, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that prosecutors had presented enough evidence for Atkins to face trial for the murder of Corado, the attempted murders of his grandmother and girlfriend, and 48 other criminal counts. Though Atkins did not fire the round that killed Corado, prosecutors charged him under the “provocative act murder” doctrine because he allegedly set off the events that led to her death.
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