A police officer who killed a bystander in a gun battle outside a Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake did not violate department policy by shooting toward a crowded store, the Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Tuesday.
A gunman had begun shooting at two LAPD officers as they pursued him in their patrol car July 21. The man crashed his car and ran towards the Trader Joe’s store, firing more rounds at the officers.
One officer shot back five times, stopping after the man entered the store because there were likely people inside, according to a report by LAPD Chief Michel Moore that was released Tuesday.
But it was too late. A bullet had traveled into the Trader Joe’s, striking 27-year-old store manager Melyda Corado in the chest, the report said.
The officer’s partner fired three rounds at the gunman, identified by authorities as Gene Evin Atkins, before he went into store.
Atkins, 28, who was wounded in the arm, held shoppers and employees hostage for three hours before surrendering.
The two officers who shot at Atkins have been identified by the LAPD as Sinlen Tse and Sarah Winans. Names in the report were redacted, so it is unclear which officer fired the shot that killed Corado.
The five-member civilian Police Commission decided unanimously that both officers’ use of lethal force complied with department policy. Moore reached the same conclusion in his report, stating that the officers reasonably believed that Atkins’ actions “presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.”
Corado’s father and brother have sued the city, alleging that the officers were negligent and used excessive force.
"How could shooting into the front of the store area on a weekend afternoon be considered within policy? It's a bad tactical decision," said John C. Taylor, an attorney for the Corado family.
The LAPD had released video of the dramatic incident, which began in South L.A. when Atkins allegedly shot his grandmother several times, then forced a young woman into a Toyota Camry and drove to Hollywood.
Police used the Camry’s anti-theft device to track the car and began pursuing it up Vine Street. At one point, the driver pulled into a gas station and attempted to carjack a customer.
As Tse and Winans continued to tail the Camry, bullets flew through the car’s back windshield.
Forty-five seconds later, the Camry veered into a utility pole in front of the Trader Joe’s. The driver bolted for the entrance, shooting wildly from his hip, and the two officers returned fire.
The officer who fired the fatal shot told investigators: “I shot at the suspect in order to defend myself against him because he was shooting at me to prevent [imminent] death on me and my partner … I was scared at the time.”
The other officer, who shot three rounds at Atkins, said there did not appear to be anyone else in the line of fire.
“I heard that first one but I wanted to make sure just because I was getting out of the car with, you know, the background and everything,” the officer told investigators. “That I had a good sight picture and, you know, that there wasn’t anybody else that was going to be in the way.”
After the initial exchange of gunfire, the officers took cover behind a low wall. The gunman fire more shots at them, one round ricocheting with a loud ping.
Meanwhile, according to Moore’s report, officers secured the rear door of the Trader Joe’s while other officers rescued children from a car in the parking lot.
The woman in the Camry with Atkins was taken to the hospital with a gunshot wound to her forehead. He had shot her during the initial incident at his grandmother’s house, the report said.
According to the report, someone ran out of the Trader Joe’s, screaming that the gunman wanted to negotiate. Another person came out of the store, telling police that Atkins had a phone and wanted to talk to “someone in charge.”
During the negotiations, Atkins told police that a woman was injured inside the store and he would allow two customers to bring her out, the report said. Corado was pronounced dead at the scene.
Atkins agreed to surrender if he could handcuff himself and walk out voluntarily, according to the report. Police officers asked a citizen who was inside the store to put on the handcuffs. In the report, Moore said the action was “a substantial deviation, with justification, from approved Department tactical training.”
Corado was beloved by Trader Joe’s regulars, and tributes piled up outside the store in the days after her death. Her father, Salvador Albert Corado, has said that working at Trader Joe’s was “a dream come true” for her.
Atkins has been charged with numerous counts, including murder, kidnapping, premeditated attempted murder and attempted murder of a peace officer.