LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The family of a beloved West End barbecue owner fatally shot in his kitchen doorway has filed a wrongful death suit against Louisville Metro Police, the Kentucky National Guard and two police officers.
David “YaYa” McAtee, 53, died June 1 from a single bullet wound to the chest fired by a guard member whose name hasn’t been released.
A caravan of guard and Louisville police officers converged on 26th and Broadway on June 1 to break up a crowd after a night of protests downtown over the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor. It resulted in an exchange of gunfire with McAtee that ended with him dying in his kitchen.
His family’s attorneys say the overuse of force and missteps by officers and soldiers — including violating multiple department policies and a directive from the chief — directly led to McAtee’s death.
The complaint comes less than a week after the Louisville Metro Government settled a $12 million civil suit with the family of Taylor — a 26-year-old unarmed Black woman who was fatally shot by police in her apartment while officers were serving a no-knock warrant in the early hours of March 13.
In McAtee’s death, police and state officials say ballistic evidence and security cameras show McAtee fired at least two rounds from his 9 mm handgun that night and that two guard members and two Louisville officers, Katie Crews and Austin Allen, fired at least 19 shots in response.
Minute by minute:What happened the night David McAtee was killed
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Steve Romines, a Louisville civil rights attorney representing the family, said part of the reason for the lawsuit is because they haven’t been able to get information about the guard’s role, policies and chain of command that night.
The plaintiffs are McAtee’s mother, 85-year-old Odessa Riley, and his niece, Maychelle McAtee, who was hit three times by pepper balls fired by police inside the door of her uncle’s kitchen, according to photo evidence. She was working that night.
The family is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death, assault on McAtee and his niece, excessive use of force, negligence, trespassing and emotional distress.
Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Fischer, said officials are still reviewing the lawsuit, which does not specifically name the Louisville Metro Government.
“As the mayor has said before, David McAtee was a friend to many, and his death was a tragedy,” Porter said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he had no comment on the lawsuit. There was no immediate comment from the National Guard.
It was about 12:15 a.m. June 1 when LMPD and the guard — which Beshear ordered to Louisville that weekend for the first time since 1975 — were dispatched to disperse a small crowd after curfew in the parking lot of Dino’s Food Mart at 26th and Broadway.
Protests over the police shooting of Taylor had erupted into violence in other areas of the city. But there were no reports of violence at 26th and Broadway before authorities moved in.
“As we said repeatedly, the administration seems to continue to sell this lie that there was some sort of unrest at 26th and Broadway,” Romines told The Courier Journal on Monday.
See also: Nephew of McAtee killed in shooting at 26th and Broadway, family says
Last week, LMPD Assistant Chief Josh Judah testified before a Metro Council committee that officers were dealing with unrest in other parts of the city that night and they got “intelligence” that indicated protests might regroup in the West End.
But LMPD’s street camera footage, monitored live by officers that night, shows about 25 cars in a parking lot at 26th and Broadway and no more than 20 people walking in view, most of them patronizing the business. Surveillance footage and witnesses both indicated no protesters or crowds.
Officers monitoring the footage alerted them to a crowd, Judah said.
“That was the last problem in the city … and we sent both because we haven’t been able to handle it by ourselves anywhere else,” he said last week.
But Romines has maintained there were no crowds or unrest in the area that night.
“They’re lies,” Romines said. “Any hope of change, voluntary change is just that — hope.”
Last month, a state official leading a Beshear-sanctioned joint Kentucky State Police investigation into McAtee’s death said that it was “substantially complete” and had been sent to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office for review, but that the case isn’t closed.
The investigation hasn’t been publicly released.
J. Michael Brown, Beshear’s Executive Cabinet secretary, also said there’s nothing to suggest a significant difference between the findings and what had been preliminarily determined by police based on surveillance video: The shots fired at McAtee were justified.
“This investigation has been comprehensive and includes more than 170 interviews, KSP lab reports and information obtained from federal agencies,” Brown said in August.
The FBI is also conducting a separate investigation that’s not completed.
What led to the David McAtee shooting
McAtee worked and lived across from Dino’s Food Mart on 26th. The night he died, he was grilling and making sandwiches while a few of his family members and friends were in his private, mostly fenced-in driveway area.
Then police arrived on the Broadway side of the food mart.
In the complaint, Romines says neither McAtee nor Maychelle knew about the “police raid” at Dino’s. Cellphone footage from a Dino’s patron shows officers and soldiers asking and telling people to leave.
Officer Crews, however, is seen early on in street surveillance video straying from her colleagues and taking a different route across the parking lot toward 26th Street.
She fired pepper balls, chemical and projectile weapons used for crowd control, at people lingering on the sidewalk near YaYa’s, McAtee’s stand.
McAtee’s nephew and business partner, Marvin McAtee, who was killed in a shooting last week, told The Courier Journal in June that several people they didn’t know came rushing into the shop from the street, running from pepper balls.
At the time they didn’t know what was happening.
“Up to this point, there had been no threat or violence directed toward the officers,” the complaint says.
Crews can be seen on a surveillance camera walking up to the property line, shooting pepper balls onto David McAtee’s property, including inside the kitchen, though no one remained outside to violate the curfew.
“From inside the kitchen, Maychelle McAtee and David McAtee did not know that the persons firing (pepper balls) at the restaurant were law enforcement officers,” the complaint says.
Just before McAtee looked out the door to see what was going on, nonlethal projectiles exploded in smoke around the door and more went into the kitchen, hitting Maychelle as she stood next to him, according to the complaint.
McAtee fired, authorities say twice, before he was struck in the chest, stumbled back inside and died.
No body camera footage is available because police didn’t turn their cameras on. The next day, Fischer fired longtime police Chief Steve Conrad for that failure and made body cameras mandatory for all officers all the time.
Earlier: Community honors David McAtee for ‘laying his life down for justice’
Allegations of LMPD policy violations
The complaint contends Crews and Allen violated several of the department’s standard operating procedures, as well as a May 30 directive by Conrad concerning Fischer’s curfew.
“LMPD officers who observe individuals in violation of this order will first inform the individual of the existence of said order and try to gain voluntary compliance,” the order stated. “If any individual refuses to comply with the officer’s persuasion and direct orders do not work, officers may arrest those continuing to refuse to comply for violating this order.”
The complaint also says the officers and guard violated LMPD’s standard operating procedures for crowd dispersal, which first requires an assessment of the situation.
Then, officers are supposed to identify themselves by name and rank, issue a dispersal order, give people a reasonable amount of time to disperse and warn people before the use of any chemical agent, of which “the defendants did none of.”
Officers are also required to fire pepper balls at the ground, not at people, the complaint says. Maychelle was hit in the thigh, shoulder and neck.
When Crews was firing into the restaurant door, “no individual had used any force toward any law enforcement officer,” the complaint says.
The complaint also says Kentucky National Guard soldiers didn’t receive proper command, instruction, equipment or training from local officials before assignment to the streets of Louisville.
The chain of command for each “group” of soldiers wasn’t clear, and they were “not to make arrests or fire their weapons without proper instruction from their commanding officers,” Romines says in the complaint.
They were armed with military long rifles rather than handguns or “proper equipment for policing or crowd control,” the complaint says.
The failure to adhere to policies and procedures was a “substantial factor and the direct and proximate” cause of McAtee’s death and Maychelle’s injuries. The officers displayed “extreme indifference to the value of human life,” the complaint says.
Kala Kachmar: @NewsQuip.
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