David “Yaya” McAtee and his BBQ joint were fixtures on the Louisville corner where he was fatally shot as police and the Kentucky National Guard dispersed a large crowd early Monday.
McAtee, 53, called the spot “one of the busiest locations in West Louisville,” where he had built a steady clientele over the years that included local cops his mother said usually ate for free. It was a popular outdoor eatery he had dreamed of turning into a restaurant, according to his mother and a February interview he gave the local West of Ninth photo blog.
McAtee’s mother, Odessa Riley, questioned the actions of the police, saying her son was “trying to make an honest dollar to take care of his rent and his bills. And they gonna shoot him down like a dog.”
Surveillance footage appeared to show McAtee fire at police first as officers used pepper balls to clear a crowd in a neighboring parking lot, according to video released Tuesday. The officers appeared to take cover and returned fire.
In one video, McAtee is seen at the door to the restaurant with his right arm extended. Moments later, McAtee moves back into the shop, clutching his chest, and falls to the ground.
Here’s what we know about David McAtee and how he died:
Police say they returned fire after being fired upon
Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad was fired after officials discovered two of his officers involved in McAtee’s shooting had not activated their body cameras.
“This type of institutional failure will not be tolerated,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Monday.
McAtee was shot as police and National Guard members tried to disperse a large crowd, according to police, who said officers returned fire after being fired upon. The city has a dusk-to-dawn curfew after nights of protests.
The LMPD officers, identified as Katie Crews and Austin Allen, are on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting.
Crews joined the police department in February of 2018. Allen joined in February 2016.
The National Guard members have not been identified and have not been been disciplined or reprimanded, said Steve Martin, a spokesman for the state’s National Guard.
Kentucky, like other states, has had protests stemming from the the death of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last week. But Louisville protesters have also voiced anger over the March death of Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician who was shot multiple times when three LMPD officers entered her apartment by force to serve a search warrant.
Police and National Guard units around 12:15 a.m. early Monday were sent to clear a large crowd in the parking lot where McAtee sold his BBQ at a store front.
“Officers and soldiers begin to clear the lot and at some point were shot at,” Conrad told reporters. “Both LMPD and National Guard members returned fire. We have one man dead at the scene.”
Louisville Metro Police Maj. Paul Humphrey said police were trying to disperse the crowd after dealing with other “unruly crowds” around the city Sunday night. The gunfire erupted after police used the pepper balls to disperse some people in the crowd, he said.
People usually gathered in the parking lot of Dino’s Food Mart, next to the BBQ spot, on weekends to eat and listen to music.
In dispatch audio released by police an officer is heard saying, “took fire from the small building just to the east of Dino’s, across from 26th Street. Small gray building. We have people barricaded inside that building.”
Interim Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert Schroeder said of the video, “We are releasing it to provide transparency. It does not answer every question. Why did (McAtee) fire? And where were police at the time he fired? We know these are questions the community is asking, and we are asking these same questions ourselves.”
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said state police were investigating McAtee’s death.
“It is our belief at this time that approximately 18 shots were fired between the Kentucky National Guard and the Louisville Metro Police that evening,” Michael Brown, secretary for the governor’s executive cabinet, told reporters on Tuesday.
“Those weapons are also in our custody for further testing, and they will be tested for DNA and any other things we can get from them,” he added.
Russell Coleman, US attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, also said on Twitter his office has started an investigation, which will be carried out alongside FBI Louisville office and state police.
“We lost a wonderful citizen named David McAtee,” Fischer said. “David was a friend to many, a well-known barbecue man.”
“They’ve nurtured so many people in their bellies and in their hearts before, and for him to be caught up in this, not to be with us today, is a tragedy.”
McAtee was shot while trying to protect his wounded niece
McAtee’s nephew, Marvin McAtee, told CNN affiliate WAVE that a niece of the chef was wounded when the gunfire erupted. She survived. McAtee was fatally shot in the chest while reaching out to grab his niece, Marvin McAtee said.
But police said there were no other reports of someone being shot at the scene.
Local officers knew McAtee well, his family said.
“He fed all the policemen,” Riley told the station. “Police would go in there and talk with him and be with him. He fed the police. He fed them free.”
Riley told CNN Monday that Fischer had briefly met with her near the scene of the shooting. She said he prayed for her.
“I broke down and started crying, but he, the Mayor Fischer, he’s a good person,” she said.
Last week, seven people were shot downtown in protests over Taylor’s death after audio was released of Taylor’s boyfriend’s call to 911 the day she died. Fischer said the shots came from the crowd, not the police.
‘I’m here for a reason,’ McAtee told photo blog
In a interview that appeared in the West of Ninth photo blog in February, McAtee said he had been cooking and selling BBQ for about 30 years but had been at the West Louisville location for two.
“I always wanted to be in this spot, and when the opportunity came, I took it,” he said. “If I go, somebody else will snatch it. I’ve already built my clientele, and I’m not trying to give up my clientele.”
McAtee said he had “some ups and downs” from “living a crazy lifestyle” but he straightened out. He said he had been shot and robbed.
“I have always been blessed with the skills to cook,” he told the blog. “I didn’t need anything else. People have to eat every single day, and all I need is my skills.”
McAtee had hoped to buy the lot and build a more permanent spot.
“I gotta start somewhere, and this is where I’m going to start. It might take another year or two to get to where I’m going, but I’m going to get there.”
CNN’s Melanie Schuman, Anna Sturla, Kevin Brunelli and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.