LOUISVILLE, Ky. – LOUISVILLE, Ky.The shooting of a popular Kentucky barbecue cook by law enforcement has raised new questions about use of force practices after police released videos of the clash this week.
Louisville Metro Police and National Guard soldiers have said they were in the area responding to a reports of a crowd gathering near David McAtee’s eatery early Monday morning, miles away from downtown protests. Police said McAtee fired at officers, who returned fire, but video evidence suggests law enforcement officials were firing pepper balls at the restaurant before McAtee fired his weapon.
The Louisville Metro Police Department’s use of force policy, obtained this week by The Associated Press, says: “While the use of reasonable physical force may be necessary in situations that cannot be otherwise controlled, force may not be resorted to unless other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or would reasonably be ineffective under the particular circumstances.”
Louisville Police spokeswoman Jessie Halladay said Friday that inquiries about use of force are “questions we expect to be answered during our investigation into the incident.” She declined further comment.
The National Guard was in the city to help enforce a 9 p.m. curfew amid protests spurred by the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Louisville native Breonna Taylor. Taylor was shot by Louisville detectives serving a warrant in her home in March.
A video released by Louisville Police on Tuesday appears to show McAtee firing a gun from the door of his restaurant as officers shot projectiles. Video from a different camera posted outside the building shows a beverage container on a table outside the door exploding and falling to the ground just before smoke emerges from inside the building where McAtee was standing.
That video shows people on Broadway, a major thoroughfare, scattering away from and into McAtee's eatery as officers approach, firing projectiles. Police had used pepper balls to scatter protests crowds after curfew through the weekend. It's not clear if the projectile that hit the exploded beverage container was a pepper ball or a bullet. Louisville Police Assistant Chief LaVita Chavous said on Tuesday that police policy with pepper balls is to “shoot at the ground in front of the crowd to get them to disperse.”
Gov. Andy Beshear said this week that people should examine the video “frame by frame.”
“People can see with their own eyes and make determinations with their own eyes,” the Democratic governor said at a Capitol briefing the day the video was released. “It is only one piece of a much larger _ and what will be an ongoing — investigation.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer fired the police chief after the shooting because Louisville officers did not have body cameras running during the incident. The chief, Steve Conrad, announced his retirement last month but was going to stay on until the end of June.
A Guard spokesman did not immediately answer questions from AP about use of force policies on Friday.
On the use of nonlethal chemical agents, including pepper balls, Louisville police said in their policy that officers can use them to disperse “disorderly aggressive crowds and restore order during a civil disturbance incident.”
The videos show McAtee raising his arm past his doorway, but his hand is blocked from camera view. After he’s struck by a bullet, he stumbles back inside, drops a gun and falls to the ground.
McAtee's family has said he was protecting his restaurant in a chaotic situation. They have questioned the account put forth by police. A lawyer for the family said the video “raises more questions than answers.”
McAtee's nephew, Marvin McAtee, said people fled to the barbecue stand when police began firing pepper balls. David McAtee’s niece was standing at the door, and Marvin McAtee said she was hit on the arm with one of the projectiles.
Beshear said “good, bad, ugly, our commitment is to the truth” in regards to what happened in the shooting. The governor reduced the number of National Guard troops on duty in Louisville after the incident.
Guard soldiers and Louisville police fired about 18 shots, authorities said. McAtee died of a gunshot wound to the chest.