David McAtee’s family settles wrongful death lawsuit against city, law enforcement for $725,000 | In-depth


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The family of David McAtee, a popular West End business owner who died after he was struck by a bullet fired by the Kentucky National Guard during protests over Breonna Taylor’s death in 2020, has received $725,000 to settle a lawsuit.

An attorney for Odessa Riley, McAtee’s mother, confirmed the settlement on Monday. 

“The family wanted to put all litigation behind them, both for themselves and the city that David loved,” according to a statement by attorney Steve Romines. “Ms. Odessa is 89 years old and had no desire to litigate for another five years.”

The lawsuit accused law enforcement of making a series of escalating mistakes, including firing pepper balls at fleeing citizens, turning off body cameras and using deadly force without justification or warning.

The suit, filed in Jefferson Circuit Court in September 2020, claimed the 53-year-old barbecue chef committed no crime before he was killed on June 1, 2020.

McAtee was inside his home and business, YaYa’s Barbecue at 26th and Broadway, “calmly grilling” a little after midnight as people milled about outside of Dino’s Food Mart across the street, according to the suit. At the time, there had been four nights of protests over Taylor’s March, 13, 2020 killing by Louisville police.

But people were “not protesting, vandalizing or looting” when police and guard members “swarmed” the area in unmarked vans and armored vehicles and began yelling for people to leave, according to the suit.

Within just a few minutes, McAtee was dead and his niece, Machelle, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, had been shot with pepper balls while standing just inside the kitchen of the business, which the suit noted has long been “a place of refuge” for locals and police officers looking for a good barbeque sandwich.

Video shows that as Machelle McAtee is pulled inside by David McAtee, he leans out the door and fires a bullet. When he reaches out and fires again seconds later, LMPD Officers Allen Austin and Katie Crews and two members of the National Guard returned fire, 18 shots in total.

Crews pleaded guilty in October to one count of misdemeanor deprivation of civil rights under the color of law after admitting she used “unreasonable force” by shooting pepper balls at Machelle McAtee while she was standing on private property and not a threat to officers.

She was sentenced on Monday to two years probation with the stipulation that she not seek a job in law enforcement again.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Romines, Ted Shouse and Michael Goodwin, said Crews initiated the sequence of events leading to McAtee’s death, shooting pepper balls at people in front of YaYa’s, forcing them to run inside the restaurant’s kitchen door and then continuing to fire, hitting McAtee’s niece.

In an interview, Shouse noted that it was significant it took “federal intervention to bring the truth to light in court. It was federal authorities who pushed criminal charges.”

Police have said they were dispersing a crowd when McAtee fired a gun from the doorway of his business and officers returned fire.

David McAtee’s family and attorneys say he didn’t know who was shooting at his restaurant and fired up in the air, not at officers. Police have said McAtee fired at officers. Available video is inconclusive.

An analysis of the bullet fragments recovered from McAtee’s body show they were fired from a guard member, but investigators have not been able to identify which rifle they came from. He died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Security video shows Machelle react to the sudden impact and external video shows puffs of smoke from the fired pepper balls.

“At this point, still no individual had used any force toward any law enforcement officer, and the police use of weapons was completely unnecessary and gratuitous, and in violation of law and police policies and procedures,” according to the suit.

McAtee, the suit claims, was “unaware” of who was shooting and why and looked outside at the same time police fired projectiles “that exploded in smoke around the door.”

McAtee was wearing a gun holstered on his right hip. The lawsuit claims police had in the past told him he needed to carry a weapon to protect himself and his business.

When McAtee again looked out the door, he raised his arm in the air and those responding “immediately unleashed a hail of at least 18 bullets,” striking him in the chest, according to the suit. He stumbled back into the kitchen and fell.

Romines has said McAtee was firing warning shots into the air.

McAtee and his niece had committed no crime or disobeyed any commands from law enforcement, the suit says.

“They were not in violation of the newly imposed curfew,” according to the suit. “They had not threatened any officer and posed no immediate threat to any officer.”

The night of the McAtee shooting, police had fired flash bang grenades and tear gas at protesters in Jefferson Square Park and were, the suit says, “amped up, armed to the hilt, and still spoiling for a fight” when they arrived at 26th and Broadway.

Members of the guard were not supposed to make arrests or fire their weapons without instruction from commanding officers, the suit claims.

After McAtee was killed, police left his body on the ground at the scene for more than 12 hours, which is not typical procedure, the suit says.

The conduct from law enforcement was “so outrageous as to shock the conscious,” according to the suit. A jury trial had been scheduled to begin in April. 

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