Louisville, KY – Federal prosecutors have brought charges against the Louisville police officer who fired pepper balls they allege caused the exchange of gunfire that ensued between a member of the National Guard and a local business owner that left 53-year-old David McAtee dead during the 2020 riots.
The incident occurred at about 12:15 a.m. on June 1, 2020 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.
The entire city was under an emergency curfew that went into effect at 9 p.m. following nights of rioting in the wake of George Floyd’s death a week earlier in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
Now-former Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (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 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.
Police released surveillance videos from inside McAtee’s kitchen and from a camera on the exterior of the building 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 a woman 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.
Court documents showed that LMPD Officer Katie Crews had been ordered to help break up the crowd at Yaya’s, WAVE reported.
Officer Crews told investigators that the woman in the doorway of the restaurant – later identified as McAtee’s niece, Machelle McAtee – refused to go inside after she was ordered to do so by officers, WDRB reported.
“She was standing in, I don’t want to say, an aggressive manner, but as a manner that she was not going to go inside,” the officer told investigators during an interview on June 5, 2020.
“After giving verbal commands, I did shoot more pepper balls in her direction,” Officer Crews said. “She still refused, so I did shoot off more non-lethal pepper balls in her direction.”
The indictment said Officer Crews “fired a pepperball at M.M., striking M.M., while M.M. was standing on private property and not posing a threat to the defendant or others,” WDRB reported.
“Whenever people were not going inside the building or making an effort to move, I did shoot off one round of non-lethal pepper ball onto the ground,” Officer Crews told investigators.
She has been charged with the federal civil rights crime of depravation of rights under color of law.
If convicted, the charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars, WDRB reported.
Activists have pointed to a social media post that Officer Crews made a few days before McAtee was shot above a picture of a protester holding flowers as proof the officer had bad intent when she faced off with protesters that night.
“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,” the officer wrote.
McAtee’s mother has filed a lawsuit that accused police of having made a series of escalating mistakes that led to her son’s death, WDRB reported.
The lawsuit also addressed the social media post and said “tragically, Crews’ aggression and desire to inflict harm on others was taken out on David McAtee and his niece.”