City Opposes Testimony of Pursuit Suspect in Trader Joe's Shooting Trial

Trader Joes grocery store entrance with sign

Photo: ablokhin / iStock Editorial / Getty Images

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The city of Los Angeles wants to prevent the testimony of a pursuit suspect whose actions allegedly led to the mistaken 2018 fatal shooting of an assistant manager inside the Trader Joe's store in Silver Lake, saying he is expected to refuse to answer defense questions during trial of the family's civil suit.

The City Attorney's Office filed court papers Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court with the new judge in the case, Alison M. Mackenzie, arguing that Gene Atkins likely will repeat his decision during a March 2022 deposition to answer only questions during trial from attorneys for relatives of the late Melyda "Mely" Corado,  then assert his Fifth Amendment rights when the city poses questions to him.

"Defendants anticipate that Mr. Atkins will repeat this performance at trial and are seeking the court's help in preventing this miscarriage of justice," lawyers for the City Attorney's Office argue in their court papers.

Even if the court were to consider allowing Atkins to testify at trial, the city has already been prejudiced by his unwillingness to answer questions on cross-examination in his deposition, according to the court papers of the lawyers for the City Attorney's Office.

"If Mr. Atkins continued to cherry-pick which questions he chose to answer, the court could decide to subsequently strike all of Atkins' testimony, but by then the bell has been rung and the damage to the defendants' case has been done," the City Attorney's Office further argues.

Given that trial of Atkins' criminal case is still pending, he likely will exercise his right against self-incrimination again, the lawyers for the City Attorney's Office further maintain in their court papers. Atkins is charged with murder and some 50 other charges and in November 2022 a judge granted a request by Atkins to act as his own attorney.

In July 2022, Judge Malcolm Mackey, who until recently presided over the case, denied a motion by the City Attorney's Office and Officers Sinlen Tse and Sarah Winans to dismiss the lawsuit. The 27-year-old Corado was fatally struck by a bullet from Tse's gun on July 21, 2018.

However, the judge did dismiss the family's causes of action for wrongful death and negligent hiring, training and supervision.

Former Irvine Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey J. Noble, a use-of-force expert, gave a sworn declaration regarding the actions of Tse and Winans in their vehicle pursuit of suspect Atkins that subsequently led to the mistaken shooting of Corado at the Hyperion Avenue store.

"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 said.

Atkins, now 33, was shot in the left elbow as he ran from the car into the market. 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 roughly 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.

Trial of the civil suit is scheduled Nov. 20.  In July, the LAPD recognized the five-year-anniversary of Corado's death.

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