Louisville, KY – The family of a David McAtee, who was fatally shot by National Guards and police after he fired his own weapon, has filed a lawsuit that claimed the business owner was only firing warning shots in the air when he was killed.
The incident occurred at about 12:15 a.m. on June 1 when police and National Guard were sent to break up a crowd in the parking lot of Dino’s Food Mart at 26th and Broadway, WLKY reported.
A curfew went into effect at 9 p.m. on May 31 for the entire city following nights of rioting.
Law enforcement cracked down amid the violence and the Kentucky National Guard was deployed to the city after seven people were shot during a protest of the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville on May 28.
Now-former LMPD Chief Steve Conrad said a crowd was gathered in the parking lot hours after the city’s emergency curfew began on May 31, NBC News reported.
He said officers and soldiers were attempting to disperse the gathering when someone in the crowd opened fire on them, according to WLKY.
Cell phone video filmed by a bystander showed soldiers and police taking cover behind vehicles as the crowd screamed and ran.
Officers and soldiers returned fire and St. Louis business owner David McAtee was fatally shot, WLKY reported.
McAtee’s mother told the Courier Journal that her 53-year-old son owned a barbecue business next door to Dino’s Food Mart.
The popular chef was active in his community and many community leaders joined the vigils mourning his death and spoke out against the Louisville police.
On June 1, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer fired Chief Conrad, citing “institutional failure” and the recent fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor during a warrant service.
Then, on June 2, surveillance videos from inside McAtee’s kitchen and from a camera on the exterior of the building were released that showed the timing of what happened.
The video showed that when police and National Guard arrived to clear the people gathered next door, a group of people ran into the kitchen of McAtee’s restaurant, Yaya’s BBQ, to hide.
Security video from inside the kitchen at Yaya’s BBQ showed that as people rushed in through the door, McAtee rushed to get outside.
He pushed his way through oncoming people to the doorway, and shoved the female employee standing in the threshold out of harm’s way, the video showed.
And then the video showed McAtee stepped into the open doorway, raised his right hand, and fired a gun in the direction of the activity outside.
Then he stepped back into the kitchen for about five seconds before he stepped out again, the video showed.
The second time he went out the door and appeared to raise his arm to fire on officers, McAtee was struck by return fire.
The video showed he stumbled back into the restaurant clutching his chest and fell to the floor.
After he fell, the video showed the girl he had pushed out of the way a moment earlier pointing to the gun McAtee had dropped on the floor by the door.
Exterior security footage showed what was happening outside the restaurant after everyone rushed inside to safety.
The video showed officers approached the pop-up tent in the parking lot but never went past the edge of it, or further approached the restaurant.
In the video, a puff of smoke is seen in the doorway, and then the officers retreated to take up tactical positions and returned fire.
“That’s what it appears at this point,” LMPD Major Paul Humphrey told reporters, according to WAVE. “Mr. McAtee appears to fire at the officers and they take cover and return fire, but without audio … that is yet to be determined.”
A few seconds later another puff of smoke is seen when gunfire strikes the side of the building where McAtee was standing in the doorway.
Attorneys for McAtee’s family, however, claim he did nothing wrong before he was shot by police, WDRB reported.
The lawsuit claimed McAtee was “calmly grilling” when the chaos broke out and that people were “not protesting, vandalizing, or looting” when police and National Guardsmen “swarmed” the area.
“Unaware of what was causing the chaos and who was shooting at his customers and his niece, David McAtee stepped out of the kitchen door to try and defend his restaurant, home, family and customers,” the lawsuit read. “Immediately, the police shot and killed him. Less than thirty seconds after David McAtee was cooking a sandwich, he lay dying on his kitchen floor.”
Two shell casings that matched McAtee’s weapon were found near the doorway where McAtee appeared to be shooting in the video, WDRB reported.
J. Michael Brown, executive cabinet secretary to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, said investigators believe LMPD officers fired nine rounds and National Guard may have fired 10 rounds.
Investigators have not identified which members of the National Guard may have struck McAtee when they fired, WDRB reported.
Steve Romines, one of the attorneys for McAtee’s family, said the popular chef was only firing warning shots into the air and posed no threat to law enforcement.
“Based on the information I have at this time, it appears to me that they were returning fire, which is part of the engagement and what any law enforcement officer would do. …” Brown said at the time of the incident.
The lawsuit also claimed that LMPD Officer Katie Crews, one of the police officers who has been identified as having fired shots that night, had “publicly stated her desire to inflict harm on protesters” in a social media post ahead of the altercation, WDRB reported.
Attorneys for McAtee’s family claimed in their lawsuit that Officer Crews posted a photo on social media of a protester holding out flowers with the caption “She was saying and doing a lot more than ‘offering flowers’ to me. Just so for it to be known. For anyone that knows me and knows that my facial expression tells everything. P.S I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt. Come back and get ya some more ole girl, I’ll be on the line again tonight.”
Officer Crews has been placed on administrative leave while the allegations are investigated.
The lawsuit claimed police “were out of control” and “escalated” tensions in the crowd by releasing less-lethal munitions, WDRB reported.
The suit said police and National Guardsmen had just fired flash bangs and tear gas at violent protesters in Jefferson Square Park before they arrived to disperse the crowd near McAtee’s restaurant and were “amped up, armed to the hilt, and still spoiling for a fight.”
McAtee’s family is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial, according to WDRB.