LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Video footage released Tuesday by Louisville police officials shows the death of David McAtee, the beloved owner of a corner barbecue spot who was killed early Monday by police amid nationwide protests against police brutality.
The footage, recorded inside YaYa’s BBQ Shack and from the exterior of a neighboring business, also appears to show McAtee firing a handgun, though it is unclear who he is shooting at or if he fired before or after police and Kentucky National Guard personnel opened fire.
McAtee’s death, which comes in the wake of a number of racially charged killings, led to the immediate firing of Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad. The embattled chief was already set to retire following his department’s shooting of EMT Breonna Taylor, who was gunned down March 13 as she slept inside her apartment.
McAtee, like Taylor, was black.
“He left a great legend behind. He was a good person. Everybody around him would say that,” McAtee’s mother, Odessa Riley, told the Louisville Courier Journal. “My son didn't hurt nobody. He didn't do nothing to nobody.”
According to the newspaper and the surveillance footage, McAtee was cooking shortly after midnight Monday outside his business. YaYa’s is adjacent to the parking lot of Dino’s Food Mart, where police said hundreds of protesters had gathered.
Louisville police and the National Guard were trying to break up the crowd, authorities said.
Conrad said in a statement Monday that someone shot at the officers and guardsmen, who “returned fire.” McAtee, 53, was killed.
Acting Chief Robert Schroeder said Tuesday during a news conference with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer that the newly released video, which lacks audio, leaves many questions unanswered.
“This video appears to show Mr. McAtee firing a gun outside of his business door as officers who were using pepper balls to clear the Dino's lot were approaching his business," Schroeder said. “This video does not provide all the answers, but we are releasing it to provide transparency.
“It does not answer every question, including, ‘Why did he fire?’ and ‘Where were police at the time he fired?’” Schroeder continued. “We know these are questions the community is asking, and we are asking these same questions ourselves. That is why we conduct a thorough investigation, to get these answers.”
Watch Schroeder and Fischer talk about the death of David McAtee below.
The department’s Public Integrity Unit is conducting an investigation, as are multiple outside agencies, including the FBI.
McAtee’s family told the Courier Journal he was known to feed Louisville’s police officers, often giving them free meals.
“He fed them free," Riley told the newspaper. “He fed the police and didn’t charge them nothing.
“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.”
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement Monday that he has ordered one of the outside investigations into the shooting.
“Given the seriousness of the situation, I have authorized the Kentucky State Police to independently investigate the event,” Beshear said.
Russell Coleman, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said Monday that his office and the FBI have also initiated an investigation into McAtee’s death.
“We understand this community’s need for answers, and we will assess all the information and will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law,” Coleman said in a statement.
McAtee’s family told WAVE in Louisville that he was killed while trying to protect his niece, who was also hit by police gunfire but is expected to be OK.
“So (McAtee) reached out to grab her and at that point, another fire went off,” McAtee’s nephew, Marvin McAtee, told the news station. “Then another fire in the rear shoots off and hit him in the chest and he died right there.”
The video footage released by Louisville police officials begins with the images from inside McAtee’s business. McAtee, wearing shorts and a red, yellow and white shirt, can be seen moving in and out of the small building as he goes to and from the smokers outside the door.
Other people can also be seen moving in and out of the business.
About two minutes into the footage, a large group of people, some wearing masks to protect them against COVID-19, hurries into the building. As they appear to take shelter from approaching police officers, McAtee moves through the small crowd to the door.
As he does so, he appears to pull a handgun from the right front pocket of his shorts.
Below, watch footage of police and National Guard personnel breaking up the crowd in Louisville Monday morning.
At the door, a puff of smoke can be seen just outside the door, though it is unclear if it is from a shot McAtee fired or from a bullet or pepper ball that struck the door frame. A young woman standing behind McAtee pulls back, flinching as though struck by something.
A moment later, McAtee appears to raise his arm outside the door and fire his weapon. He moves back into the building for a few seconds before again peeking out the doorway.
As he takes a step outside, he is struck by at least one bullet. He stumbles back inside his business and moves out of the camera’s view for a second before falling to the floor.
The young woman who had been standing behind him closes the door and points to the floor, where McAtee’s gun fell from his hand after he was shot.
Watch the footage of David McAtee’s shooting below. Warning: The video contains graphic images.
The footage from the neighboring business shows McAtee attending to the food he is cooking outside and speaking to customers. None of the people closest to the business appear to be involved in the protests.
The video appears to back McAtee’s family members, who told WAVE the gathering outside YaYa’s was not part of the protests. They said McAtee handled the food for gatherings in the neighborhood each weekend.
Patrons standing near a small table and chairs suddenly turn and hurry away from the area, some taking shelter inside McAtee’s building, as Louisville police officers and National Guard personnel head toward them from the Dino’s parking lot.
Once the outside area is clear of people, one of the officers appears to fire a pepper ball at one of the tables, knocking a drink to the ground. A second later, the officers and guardsmen fall back and take cover behind vehicles.
Again, it is unclear if McAtee fired before or after the first shot by law enforcement officials.
Sparks fly off the pavement as multiple more shots are fired.
On Monday, Fischer confirmed activists’ claims that McAtee’s body remained at the scene for more than 12 hours after he was killed.
“I was incredulous, outraged, saying, ‘How is this possible? How can his body still be there?’” Fischer said in a news conference Monday.
The mayor explained that the Public Integrity Unit, which was shorthanded due to the protests, had close to 100 witnesses to interview at the scene. According to protocol, those interviews must be completed before a forensic exam of the victim’s body can occur.
“This is a man on the floor, but the body is the most critical piece of evidence in any homicide investigation,” Fischer said. “This took much longer than anyone wanted it to, and it was painful. I’d like to say, it is unacceptable.”
Fischer said one comfort was that McAtee’s family was able to see him before his body was removed from the scene. He also praised the “amazing” crowd.
“This could have been a situation that got out of control very quickly, but like we’ve seen from many folks in the west end, it was peaceful,” the mayor said. “They were upset, understandably so.”
Fischer said despite their grief, those in the crowd remained calm as one of the protesters turned mourners sang “Amazing Grace.”
“We can all learn a lot from that,” he said.
The two Louisville officers involved in the shooting, identified by the Courier Journal as officers Katie Crews and Allen Austin, have been placed on administrative leave.
Crews is also under internal review for a social media post in which she mocked a protester who had been struck by pepper balls during protests Thursday night in the city. In a Facebook post in which she shared a Courier Journal photo of a woman offering her a bundle of flowers, Crews claimed the woman was “saying and doing a lot more than offering flowers to (her).”
“I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt,” Crews wrote. “Come back and get ya some more ole girl, I’ll be on the line again tonight.”
Fischer terminated Conrad after learning that neither officer had activated their body cameras at the scene of the shooting, according to a news release from his office.
“An immediate change in leadership is required,” Fischer said.
Fischer described Crews’ and Austin’s lapse as a violation of police policy and “an especially grievous error at a time of such heightened focus on police activities.”
It is also a repeated error. No body camera footage exists of the March 13 killing of Taylor, 26, who was asleep in her apartment when officers busted down the door to serve a search warrant in a drug case.
The man they were searching for lived elsewhere and had been arrested earlier in the day, according to lawyers for Taylor’s family. The officers, who fired more than 20 times into Taylor’s home, struck her at least eight times.
In the aftermath of Taylor’s fatal shooting, Fischer ordered the suspension of no-knock warrants, mandated that all Louisville police officers wear body cameras and began working to establish a civilian review board with subpoena powers, the news release from his office said.
Beshear said Monday that under the circumstances, Conrad’s termination was the right call for Fischer to make.
“Two incidences of this significance, no body cameras – it had to happen,” Beshear said, according to the Courier Journal.
Taylor’s killing, along with the May 25 in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has served as a catalyst for the protests against police brutality, which Fischer said occurred in at least 150 cities across the country over the weekend. Violence has broken out in at least 30 of those cities.
McAtee’s death has brought more grief to a community already hurting. The mayor said during Monday’s news conference that McAtee was well-known in the community, his business a “refuge for so many.”
Watch Mayor Greg Fischer speak about the death of David McAtee below.
“This morning, I mourned with his mother, Ms. Odessa, and other members of her family,” Fischer said. “First on the telephone and then I went down to the site to spend some time with her.
“She’s a beautiful woman, with the heart of a lion and grace like I’ve never seen in a situation like we had this morning.”
McAtee, known to many as the “BBQ man,” operated his business from the corner at which he died in west Louisville, the Courier Journal reported. He hoped to someday buy the lot there at 26th Street and Broadway to build a permanent location.
“I’ve been doing this for about 30 years, but I’ve been here for two,” he told photo blog West of Ninth in a February 2018 interview. "This location is one of the busiest locations in west Louisville. I always wanted to be in this spot, and when the opportunity came, I took it.
“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.”
Those who knew McAtee described him as a kind, generous man who did whatever he could to help the community.
“He’s just a good, decent person,” Louisville Metro Council President David James told the Courier Journal. “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, who buried a daughter Jan. 22, is now mourning her son.
“When a mother loses her child, a piece of you goes along with that child,” Riley told reporters.