Just after midnight on Monday, June 1, police in Louisville, Kentucky, shot David McAtee while he stood in a “large crowd” gathered outside a convenience store in the city’s West End. Officers with the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department and the National Guard claimed they had been fired upon and said they were “returning fire” into the group of civilians, killing McAtee, a 53-year-old black man. On Tuesday, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer claimed that McAtee had fired a shot before he was shot to death; he said security-camera footage supported this version of events, although there is no body-camera footage because the police had theirs turned off.
In Louisville, as in many other parts of the country, the weekend brought widespread protests against police brutality and the use of excessive force, sparked by the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes last week. Protestors also demanded justice for Breonna Taylor, whom Louisville police shot dead in her apartment in March. Demonstrations largely started off peacefully but escalated violently when police, dressed in riot gear and armed with tear gas, faced off with crowds.
Still, witnesses say that the gathering targeted by law enforcement in Louisville was not part of the protests. Here’s what we know about McAtee’s case so far:
McAtee’s family says he was shot while trying to protect his niece.
According to Louisville NBC affiliate WAVE-3 News, the group assembled near McAtee’s restaurant, YaYa’s BBQ, was there for a standing weekend gathering, where McAtee provides food. According to the outlet, LMPD and National Guard officers said they were responding to reports of a crowd around 12:15 a.m., in violation of the city’s “dusk to dawn” curfew. “Witnesses said soldiers boxed them in and people panicked,” WAVE-3 reports. Shots were fired, one of which reportedly hit McAtee’s niece. (She’s expected to recover.) He “reached out to grab her, and at that point another fire went off,” nephew Marvin McAtee told WAVE-3. “Then another fire in the rear shoots off and hit him in the chest, and he died right there.”
In the shooting’s wake, some have questioned why police came fully armed to the West End, a predominantly black part of town. “Why are they downtown with rubber bullets and here with real bullets?” Carolyn Wilder, a close friend of McAtee’s, said to WFPL.
Police did not activate their body cameras.
In a statement on Monday, LMPD chief Steve Conrad said that someone in the parking lot fired at law enforcement, prompting both responding officers and National Guard soldiers to “return fire.” On Monday morning, police said they had not determined who was responsible for the alleged first shot but are interviewing multiple persons of interest.
“It’s very clear that many people do not trust the police,” Conrad reportedly said at a news conference. “That is an issue we’re going to work on and work through.” Still, he did not take any questions.
Kentucky governor Andy Beshear also authorized the Kentucky State Police to independently investigate the shooting. Beshear asked for the expedient release of footage from the responding officers’ body cameras, saying: “I’m not asking people to trust our account. I want to see the video for ourselves.”
By Monday evening, however, it became apparent that footage would not be forthcoming: Louisville mayor Greg Fischer disclosed that the officers on the scene were either not wearing their body cams or hadn’t activated them and that Conrad would be let go immediately. Conrad, it bears noting, had announced his imminent retirement last month, amid mounting scrutiny of his department’s handling of the Breonna Taylor case.
Still, Beshear promised investigations into McAtee’s death would not take months to deliver results, as Taylor’s has. “The lack of direct body camera footage is unacceptable, and I think we all feel that way,” he said, according to WHAS-11 News.
On June 2, Fischer and LMPD claimed in a press conference that David McAtee fired a shot before law enforcement killed him. They released security-camera footage that they said backed up their version of events: “Mr. McAtee appears to fire at the officers and the officers take cover and return fire,” said Major Paul Humphrey. In one video taken from inside McAtee’s restaurant, McAtee and several other people are shown going in and out a door as police and National Guard approach outside; at one point, several people quickly enter, and McAtee is seen leaning out of the building before he falls back, clutching his chest. It is not immediately apparent whether he is holding anything, nor is there audio accompanying the footage. In the second video, taken from outside, police can be seen approaching the building and firing pepper balls before shooting. Police said they could not yet say whether a weapon was found on McAtee’s body, or why officers approached the restaurant in the first place.
Police reportedly left McAtee’s body lying in the parking lot for over 12 hours.
McAtee’s body remained in a parking lot by YaYa’s BBQ even as protesters gathered there later that day. Police declined to move it for over 12 hours, according to the Intercept. “Even if they had some sort of legitimate, procedural reason for [keeping the body at the scene], you’d think they would have in mind the trauma that they’re inflicting when they do that, especially having experienced that with the Mike Brown case in Ferguson,” Robert LeVertis Bell, a community activist and a candidate for the Louisville Metro Council, told the outlet. “That’s the first thing I thought, that this was terrorism … because it’s terrorizing, even if they don’t intentionally try to do it.”
Protesters reportedly remained at the site all day.
Two officers involved in the shooting have been reassigned.
Unlike Conrad, officers involved in the shooting do not appear to have been fired, despite having violated department policy on body cams and despite Fischer’s public pledge that “this type of institutional failure will not be tolerated.” Acting Chief Rob Schroeder also called the “failure to follow policy” inexcusable and “completely unacceptable.” He did not say whether any other officers were confirmed to have worn or activated their cameras, but did stress that there “will be discipline” for the violation.
Since then, two of the officers who responded to the scene, Austin Allen and Katie Crews, have reportedly been placed on administrative reassignment.
On Tuesday, multiple news outlets reported that Crews had mocked a peaceful protester on her Facebook page a few days before the fatal shooting, posting a photo of a female demonstrator offering her a flower, with the caption, “I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt.”
David McAtee’s family described him as a “pillar of the community.”
Many of McAtee’s neighbors said they knew him as “the barbecue man,” and according to his mother, Odessa Riley, he was viewed as “a pillar of the community.”
“He left a great legend behind,” Riley told the Courier-Journal. “He was a good person. Everybody around him would say that.”
Riley also said that her son made a habit of letting law enforcement eat for free: “He fed the police and didn’t charge them nothing,” she said. “My son was a good son. All he did on that barbecue corner is try to make a dollar for himself and his family. And they come along and they killed my son.”
According to the Courier-Journal, McAtee had been selling barbecue for about 30 years and had occupied the corner of 26th and Broadway for about two years. A friend of McAtee’s, Greg Cotton Jr., told the paper that McAtee used to cook food for community events: “He was one of the ones who would donate all his time and all his food; everybody could just come up and take it and he wouldn’t charge, because it was for the neighborhood.” Metro Council President David James added, “He’s just a good, decent person. He believes in this neighborhood. He loves his city, loves his neighborhood, loves to cook food, loves to keep people happy with his sense of humor. He’s just a great guy.”
Riley told reporters that her daughter died in January, and “now my baby son has gotten killed.”
“When a mother loses her child, a piece of you goes along with that child,” she said. “I’m just going through it.”