The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday made the decision not to criminally charge two LAPD officers who accidentally fatally shot a Trader Joe’s store manager two years ago while trying to prevent an armed suspect from taking customers and staff hostage.
Melyda Maricela Corado, 27, died from a single gunshot wound when she was struck at the entrance of a Trader Joe’s in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles on July 21, 2018. A suspect, then 28-year-old Gene Evin Atkins, had allegedly shot his grandmother before leading police on a high-speed chase across the city, exchanging gunfire with officers multiple times before arriving in front of the grocery store.
Atkins had crashed his vehicle into a light post outside the Trader Joe’s and fired three rounds at LAPD Officers Sinlen Tse and Sarah Winan, according to a memorandum made public by the district attorney’s office Tuesday. Both officers returned fire with a total of eight shots. One round hit Atkins in the elbow. Another fatally injured Corado.
“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, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Prosecutors noted that Atkins, not the officers, “were criminally responsible for Corado’s death.”
Atkins proceeded to take several customers and employees hostage, including the wounded Corado. Because of this, paramedics did not begin rendering aid to Corado until 35 minutes after she was shot, and police did not realize the manager had been struck until Atkins notified them during hostage negotiations, according to the memorandum.
It was determined that a bullet from Tse’s gun most likely struck Corado “when she was still inside the Trader Joe’s running toward the entrance that Atkins entered,” the memorandum states. The shooting was not captured on store surveillance footage or by officer-worn body cameras.
When interviewed by investigators, Tse and Winans said they did not see Corado before they opened fire. Tse said she chose to fire at Atkins because he was standing in front of a concrete wall, which she thought would have minimized the chances of striking any bystanders if she missed.
The decision not to criminally charge the officers Tuesday would be one of the final cases overseen by outgoing Dististrct Attorney Jackie Lacey. It comes after LAPD Chief Michel Moore and the city’s police commission already ruled last year that the officers acted within the department’s policy, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But Corado’s brother, Albert Corado, said he may reach out to incoming District Attorney George Gascón to contest the decision. The Corado family has already filed a lawsuit against the city over Melyda’s death, alleging negligence and excessive force by the officers. Her brother has also frequented recent protests in Los Angeles this year over racial injustice and police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd.
“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 told the Times on Tuesday. “That it’s a tragedy, but unfortunately, that’s the cost of LAPD doing business in the city.”
A spokesman for Gascón’s transition team told the newspaper that he will establish a process for families to seek a review of their cases. Throughout his campaign, Gascón vowed to reevaluate four different shootings if he were elected district attorney and criticized Lacey for deciding not to bring criminal charges against officers in those cases.
Even though he didn’t fire the bullet that killed Corado, Atkins was charged with her murder based on a provocative act theory – which holds him responsible for her death because his initial criminal actions set into motion a situation dangerous to human life and a third party’s response ended in deadly force.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge decided last year that prosecutors had enough evidence for Atkins to face trial for Corado’s murder, as well as the attempted murder of his grandmother, girlfriend, and dozens of other counts related to him firing at peace officers and taking hostages.