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Police - Photo courtesy of EV on Unsplash

The decision by two Los Angeles police officers to open fire before the accidental fatal shooting of an assistant manager inside the Trader Joe’s store in Silver Lake in 2018 was “reckless,” according to a former deputy chief for the Irvine Police Department who is a use-of-force expert.

Jeffrey J. Noble, who also is a lawyer, gave a sworn declaration regarding the actions of Officers Sinlen Tse and Sarah Winans in their vehicle pursuit of suspect Gene Atkins and ultimately the death of Melyda “Mely” Corado, who was shot by Tse. The declaration was attached to court papers filed Wednesday by attorneys for Corado’s relatives in response to an upcoming motion by the City Attorney’s Office to dismiss the suit.

“The failure of Officers Tse and Winans to hold their fire when Mr. Atkins turned his back and ran into the Trader Joe’s on a Saturday afternoon with numerous civilians present both inside and outside the store was reckless and inconsistent with generally accepted police practices as police officers are trained to account for their background when firing their handguns to avoid shooting an innocent person,” Noble says.

The wrongful death and negligence suit was brought against the city and the officers in November 2018.

Atkins, now 32, was shot in the left elbow as he ran from the car into the market. He was subsequently charged with murder involving the 27-year-old Corado’s July 21, 2018, death, along with 50 other counts.

Prior to the shootout at Trader Joe’s, Tse and Winans began to pursue Atkins, who had earlier allegedly shot and wounded his grandmother. The chase went on for about 15 minutes and covered about nine miles, ending when Atkins’ car hit a pole near the market.

Noble’s opinion of the officers’ actions leading up to Corado’s shooting contradicts arguments made by lawyers for the City Attorney’s Office, who state in their court papers in favor of dismissing the case that the officers’ use of force “was objectively reasonable based on the facts and circumstances confronting the officers.”

In addition, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office released a report in December 2020 finding that Officers Tse and Winans were “justified in using deadly force in an attempt to stop” Atkins.

Atkins previously sent a handwritten note to the plaintiffs’ lawyers stating that he never fired any shots after his car crashed outside the Trader Joe’s at the end of a police pursuit, but the officers maintain he did fire in their direction.

“However, even if Atkins shot two times at the officers as he exited his vehicle as they claim, they still should not have fired multiple deadly rounds in Atkins’ direction, given their background of a crowded grocery store on a Saturday afternoon with numerous civilians present,” Noble said.

Noble said he has no problem with the officers conducting the vehicle chase.

“In these circumstances, the officers’ vehicle pursuit of Atkins was reasonable and consistent with generally accepted police practices,” Noble said. “Atkins was wanted for a violent crime, attempted murder, he had stolen a vehicle and was believed to be armed and dangerous. During the pursuit, Atkins drove recklessly and shot at the officers.”

However, once Atkins turned and began to run inside the store, the officers had an obligation to look at what dangers opening fire could present to people in the background, according to Noble. Both officers fired shots at Atkins.

“While only Officer Tse’s round struck Ms. Corado, both officers’ actions were inconsistent with generally accepted police practices as they placed the community at risk of death or serious bodily injury as they fired toward a busy store at a subject who was running away from the officers,” Noble said.

An LAPD Use of Deadly Force Handout provided to all LAPD police recruits in the police academy states that before discharging a firearm, officers must consider their surroundings, background and potential risk to bystanders, according to Noble.

Noble retired in 2012 after a 28-year law enforcement career. In 2014, he temporarily served as a deputy chief for the Westminster Department. He says he has been retained as both a defense and a plaintiff’s expert in over 300 cases.

Both Tse and Winans gave sworn statements in support of the city’s motion to dismiss the case.

“I had no alternative but to fire my weapon at Gene Atkins in order to stop this deadly threat that he, himself, had created,” Tse said. “I fired based upon his actions and stopped when I realized he was moving into the Trader Joe’s entrance to avoid striking individuals inside, despite the fact that he was still considered a violent fleeing felon and continued to pose an imminent threat of serious/great bodily injury and/or death while inside Trader Joe’s.”

Shots fired by Atkins at both officers struck a nearby pole, according to Tse, who further says he and his partner ran for cover behind a concrete wall in the parking lot while Atkins was inside the store.

In her declaration, Winans said Atkins posed as much of a deadly threat to the Trader Joe’s patrons as he did to her and Tse.

“No longer could I avoid the unfortunate need to fire my weapon to stop Gene Atkins’ deadly actions, but I also was forced into this situation based upon the deadly actions that Gene Atkins had demonstrated he was capable of engaging in,” said Winans, who fired three shots.

A hearing on the city’s dismissal motion is scheduled July 6 before Judge Malcolm Mackey.

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