A former police officer is facing a federal charge of using unreasonable force against an individual in the moments leading up to the fatal police shooting of Black restaurant owner David McAtee during the 2020 summer police brutality protests in Louisville.
The indictment, filed Wednesday, alleges that former Louisville officer Katie Crews violated the constitutional rights of an individual – identified only by the initials “M.M” – when she fired a pepper ball, striking the person, who was “standing on private property and not posing a threat” to other people. An attorney representing the officer declined to comment.
McAtee’s popular restaurant, YaYa’s BBQ, was near a parking lot where officers – including Crews – fired pepper balls in attempts to clear a crowd on June 1, 2020.
McAtee was shot as police and Kentucky National Guard members tried to disperse the crowd, according to police, who have said officers were returning fire after being fired upon. One video showed McAtee, 53, at the restaurant door with his right arm extended. Moments later, he is seen clutching his chest, and falling to the ground. No one has been charged in McAtee’s killing.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed later that year, McAtee’s family alleged police and Kentucky National Guard members chased protesters who were out past the city’s dusk-to-dawn curfew to the area where McAtee’s business was located and began firing pepper balls in front of the restaurant. Some people attempted to escape by entering the kitchen door while McAtee was inside, unaware of what was happening, the lawsuit alleged.
McAtee’s niece, Machelle, was hit with pepper balls “multiple times,” according to the suit. “David McAtee stepped out of the kitchen door to try and defend his restaurant, home, family, and customers. Immediately, the police shot and killed him,” the lawsuit alleged.
David McAtee’s nephew had also previously told CNN affiliate WAVE that the chef was shot while reaching out to grab his niece.
Steve Romines, an attorney representing the McAtee family, confirmed to CNN the individual identified by initials in the indictment is Machelle.
“We agree with the Grand Jury’s decision today that criminal activity by LMPD in the unwarranted shooting at innocent bystanders outside of YaYa’s BBQ is what directly (led) to the death of David McAtee,” the attorney told CNN in a statement Thursday.
If convicted, Crews could face up to ten years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, according to the indictment.
The aftermath of the shooting
The fatal shooting happened amid widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice that erupted across the city – and the country – following the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
Crews is the second former Louisville officer to face federal charges of using excessive force during those protests. Former officer Cory Evans pleaded guilty last year to hitting a kneeling person in the head who was surrendering during an arrest in May 2020. He was sentenced last month to two years in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
Louisville’s police chief was fired hours after McAtee’s killing after officials discovered that two officers at the scene – Crews and Austin Allen – had either not worn or activated their body cameras, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer had said.
Both Crews and Allen were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting. National Guard members involved in the incident were not identified, CNN previously reported.
Crews was fired on February 7, 2022, according to Louisville police. The department declined to comment further on the matter. CNN has also reached out to the police department for an update on Allen’s status.
The lawsuit filed by McAtee’s family in 2020 named Crews and Allen individually because they were seen in surveillance video shooting pepper balls into the crowd where McAtee was last seen alive, Romines previously told CNN. The suit also accused 10 unnamed Louisville officers and 10 unnamed state National Guard members with using excessive force, among other charges.
Kentucky authorities determined that bullets fired from the Kentucky National Guard were responsible for McAtee’s death, J. Michael Brown, the secretary for the governor’s executive cabinet, said in a statement on June 9, 2020.
Nearly a year later, in May 2021, Kentucky Commonwealth Attorney Thomas B. Wine announced the investigation into McAtee’s killing would not go to a grand jury for further review, or for potential charges against any Louisville police officers or National Guard soldiers who fired their weapons.
Louisville officers and National Guard members “were authorized to discharge their firearms in defense of human life, including their own, when they reasonably believed, based on the facts and circumstances, that Mr. McAtee posed an immediate threat of death or serious injury to them or to another person,” Wine concluded.
McAtee used to feed officers for free
McAtee’s mother, Odessa Riley, previously said that local officers knew her son well.
“He fed all the policemen,” Riley said in June 2020. “Police would go in there and talk with him and be with him. He fed the police. He fed them (for) free.”
Fischer, the mayor, called McAtee a “wonderful citizen” in a statement following the killing.
“David was a friend to many, a well-known barbecue man,” the mayor said. “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.”
In an interview that had appeared in the West of Ninth photo blog several months before the shooting, McAtee said he had been cooking and selling BBQ for roughly 30 years, and had been at his West Louisville location for about two years.
He’d always wanted to be at that location and was hoping to buy the lot and build a more permanent restaurant, he told the blog.
“I gotta start somewhere, and this is where I’m going to start,” he had said. “It might take another year or two to get to where I’m going, but I’m going to get there.”