Suspect in Trader Joe’s shooting to represent himself

LOS ANGELES — A man accused of triggering a gun battle that resulted in a Trader Joe’s assistant manager being shot to death by Los Angeles police, and a subsequent standoff inside the Silver Lake store where he allegedly took more than a dozen people hostage, will be allowed to act as his own attorney, a judge ruled Nov. 7.

During a late-afternoon court session, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gustavo Sztraicher granted Gene Evin Atkins’ request to represent himself on murder and other charges after warning the 28-year-old defendant that it was, in his opinion, “almost always an unwise decision to represent yourself” and that the case against him was being handled by an experienced criminal prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef.

Atkins — who could face life in prison if convicted as charged — told the judge that he understood and wanted to go forward defending himself.

He remains jailed in lieu of $15.1 million bail while awaiting arraignment Dec. 17.

The ruling came hours after the defendant — who’s also accused of shooting his grandmother and his 17-year-old girlfriend — told the judge, “I would like to fire my attorney.”

In addition to the murder count stemming from the July 21 killing of Melyda Maricela Corado, Atkins is facing 50 other counts, including attempted murder of a police officer, attempted murder, assault on a peace officer with a semi-automatic firearm, false imprisonment by violence and kidnapping, second-degree robbery, attempted carjacking, assault with a firearm, mayhem, and fleeing a pursuing police officer’s vehicle while driving recklessly.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore confirmed July 24 that the bullet that killed Corado was fired by a police officer, not Atkins, who surrendered to SWAT officers after about three hours of negotiations.

“This is a heartbreaking reminder of the split-second decisions that officers must make every day,” an emotional Moore said then. “And it is also a sobering reminder of the destruction a lone individual with a handgun can create.”

Even though he did not shoot Corado, Atkins was charged with her killing under the theory that he set off the chain of events that led to the 27-year-old woman’s death.

In the hours leading up to the standoff, Atkins allegedly shot his 76-year-old grandmother and his 17-year-old girlfriend in South Los Angeles. He is accused of kidnapping the teen and forcing her into his grandmother’s car, which he crashed into a light pole in front of the Trader Joe’s market in the 2700 block of Hyperion Avenue at the end of a police chase and fled inside, while exchanging gunfire with pursuing officers.

“As Atkins exited his vehicle, witnesses reported they observed Atkins shoot at the officers. The officers exited their vehicle and returned fire as Atkins ran towards the entrance of Trader Joe’s,” Moore told reporters.

The police chief said the two officers — one a six-year veteran, the other a two-year veteran — fired a total of eight shots in return. One of them struck Atkins in the left arm, but he continued running inside. Another struck Corado, traveling through her arm and into her body, Moore said.

The woman managed to stumble back inside the store after being shot, collapsing behind the manager’s station.

She was carried out of the business by others in the store, but paramedics were unable to save her.

Moore — who described the officers as being “devastated” — said he believes they did “what they needed to do in order to defend the people of Los Angeles and defend the people in that store and defend themselves.”

The police chief said Atkins fired additional rounds at police from inside the store, but officers did not return fire.

Several store employees and customers were able to escape from the store, while others were released by Atkins at various times before he surrendered, according to the police chief.

Relatives of Corado’s family filed claims for damages last month against the Los Angeles Police Department. Those claims — precursors to a lawsuit — allege civil rights violations, battery, excessive force, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, failure to adequately train officers and conspiracy to cover up wrongful misconduct.

Council panel wants health study for zoo elephant

Independent Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — A City Council committee has recommended that Billy, an elephant that has lived at the Los Angeles Zoo for most of his 30 years, undergo an independent health study by a three-member panel of outside experts who are not too closely associated with any zoos.

The Arts, Entertainment, Parks and River Committee has been considering the parameters of a health study of the pachyderm since January, when it directed city staff to report on the feasibility of forming a three-person independent working group of veterinarians not connected to the zoo to offer an opinion on Billy’s health and habitat.

The potential study stems from a City Council motion to have Billy moved from the Los Angeles Zoo to a sanctuary over what City Councilman Paul Koretz calls an “unnatural” and “restricted” habitat for the animal.

The committee in June rejected a report from the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst and the Department of Recreation and Parks over concerns that the recommended guidelines would result in a panel too closely connected with zoos.

The report said the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst consulted zoo experts in Los Angeles, San Diego and other locations to identify medical experts with the appropriate expertise, and it was determined that the experts to be consulted should be licensed veterinarians certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine.

Even though the experts would not be from the Los Angeles Zoo, Koretz has been saying the panel should include experts not closely associated with any zoo.

“Ever since the committee decided in January to move in the direction of a health and welfare assessment of Billy, my primary interest has been to encourage you to make sure it was done independently by fully qualified professionals, and I believe that’s been the (committee’s goal, as well,” said Koretz, who chairs the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee.

The guidelines for the panel that were approved by the committee are to seek advice from licensed veterinarians certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine, the American College of Animal Welfare, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service National Veterinary Accreditation Program.

Billy has long been the subject of protests against his captivity, while the zoo has defended its care of the elephant as exceeding the standards set out by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Because males and females living in captivity must be kept separate, none of the zoo’s elephants can use the exhibit’s entire space and Billy does not get the daily exercise he needs to be both physically and psychologically healthy, according to Koretz.

Billy’s welfare has been a longtime focus of animal welfare activists, and a January meeting of the committee about the elephant was attended by celebrities Cher and Lilly Tomlin, who both called for an independent study of his health.

“The zoo vets are not totally reliable. We have found that to be true over the years,” Tomlin told City News Service after she gave similar comments to the committee. “We can’t get the records we need, we can’t get any kind of response as to his real health, his real issue. And we feel that he is in pretty dire circumstances.”

Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, whose real name is Saul Hudson, also attended the January meeting, but was on the opposing side as a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, the zoo’s fundraising arm. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member said many people are “woefully out of touch with the facts, and I think the facts are what are important here, and you should support the facts and the Los Angeles Zoo’s elephant program and vote down this motion.”

Zoo Director John Lewis defended the zoo’s elephant habitat at the earlier meeting and said Billy “is not suffering. He’s in good health.”


Council panel approves restaurant ban on plastic straws

Independent Wire Service

LOS ANGELES — All Los Angeles restaurants would be banned from giving customers plastic straws by 2021 under a proposal backed Oct. 16 by a City Council committee.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell wants to create a citywide single-use plastic straw ordinance that would go further than a bill, recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, banning full-service restaurants from automatically giving customers plastic straws beginning Jan. 1.

“Plastic straws play a negative, outsized role in harming our environment and as a coastal city, we have a responsibility to act,” O’Farrell said. “The fact that many small businesses in my district already offer plastic straws on request, or use environmentally friendly alternatives, demonstrates momentum on this issue.”

Under the measure approved by the council’s Energy, Environment, and Social Justice Committee, the Bureau of Sanitation would be instructed to report back within 90 days regarding the feasibility of phasing out single-use plastic straws by 2021, and to work with the Department of Disability on methods and approaches to mitigate impacts to the disabled community associated with the phase-out.

The committee also moved to have the city attorney draft a plastic straws-on-request ordinance applicable to food and beverage facilities with more than 26 employees effective Jan. 1, and applicable to all other food and beverage facilities effective July 1 of next year.

“Straws on request is another step by the L.A. City Council to remove more trash from our waste stream, a waste stream that currently and historically flows through the communities I represent,” said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who co-introduced the initiative with O’Farrell. “Our goal of zero waste in Los Angeles will protect our environment and the communities of the Northeast Valley for years to come.”

O’Farrell’s original motion for the straws-on-request ordinance cites a Los Angeles Times editorial which stated that Americans use — and almost immediately discard — up to a half-billion plastic beverage straws each day.

The motion also called on the Bureau of Sanitation to report on options that business owners may use as an alternative to plastic straws, such as biodegradable or reusable straws.

“Since 2000, Heal the Bay volunteers have picked up over 121,000 straws and stirrers from Los Angeles County beaches,” said Shelley Luce, president and CEO of Heal the Bay. “It’s heartening to see businesses recognizing the problem and becoming part of solution.”

The committee also approved a second motion that calls for the city to explore the feasibility of implementing a plastic utensils-on-request ordinance which requires restaurants, and other food service providers, to withhold plastic utensils unless a customer requests them.


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