In announcing that an officer fired the shot that killed a Trader Joe’s manager during a gun battle with a suspect Saturday in Silver Lake, the Los Angeles Police Department released dramatic videos that showed how the confrontation occurred.
What videos show
The LAPD released a dash cam video and a body camera video s from officers who were chasing the suspect. Each shows officers chasing the car, then the gun battle outside the Trader Joe’s.
“Shots fired, Shots fired,” yells one of the officers into the radio as suspect Gene Atkins shoots out his own back window during the pursuit on Rowena Avenue.
“Do not, do not shoot,” says one of the officers. “We are going to keep our distance.”
An officer pulls out his gun and tells his partner he has a weapon ready. The videos show the gunman fire twice at the officers after he gets out of a Toyota Camry after crashing into a pole outside Trader Joe’s.
The gunfire comes as the officers come out of their police cruiser and just as they position themselves behind the doors.
The suspect can be seen darting into the store with a gun.
The officers’ gunfire follows from right to left as the suspect enters the door. An unidentified figure can be seen in the doorway at that moment.
What the videos don’t show
The videos don’t show what happened inside the store. Atkins is seen running inside. In the body camera video, officers with guns drawn are seen running toward the Trader Joe’s but not going in.
The fatal shooting of the Trader Joe’s manager is not shown.
The police narrative
The chaotic series of events that led to the shooting and a subsequent standoff inside the popular Trader Joe’s began hours earlier in South Los Angeles. Police said Atkins had become involved in an argument with his grandmother at their home in the 1600 block of East 32nd Street. The dispute turned bloody and Atkins shot the woman multiple times before forcing his girlfriend into his grandmother’s Toyota Camry, authorities said.
Police used an anti-vehicle theft system to track Atkins to Hollywood hours later, but he fled. He shot at police during the ensuing car chase, shattering the rear window of the Camry, before crashing into a light post on Hyperion Avenue, where the Trader Joe’s is located, according to law enforcement officials.
Atkins fired at officers as he ran toward the store and was injured by a volley of return fire, police said.
In the gun battle, the store’s manager was killed when she stepped into the parking lot.
Charles “Sid” Heal, a retired LA County Sheriff’s commander and shooting expert, said the video reflects the realities of the life-and-death decisions officers facing an armed suspect must make when in a public place.
“The suspect created the situation and law enforcement inherited it,” Heal said. “The alternative was to surrender the lives of hostages inside the store. Plus he could have killed those officers.”
Heal added: “You can play the scenario over and over again, but nobody is going to have a better option.”
Heal, a former SWAT supervisor, said Atkins could have entered the store and shot everyone inside.
“The definition of evil is shooting your grandma and he’d already done that,” Heal said. “People in a case of a tragic loss of life will look for solutions, but sometimes there isn’t one.”
“The standard is not perfection,” he said. “As an officer, if you don’t shoot here, you are risking the lives of hostages and your officers. As tragic as this loss is, this isn’t a complex decision.”
Other experts, interviewed before the footage was released, expressed similar views.
“It’s one of those lose-lose situations,” Geoff Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police use of force, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. “Unless you can walk away with no one else getting injured or killed, there’s going to be someone criticizing something.”
11:10 a.m.: Updated with more details from video.
Originally posted at 10:20 a.m.