LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s top criminal prosecutor won’t pursue charges against Louisville police or National Guard members in the fatal shooting of a barbecue cook last year.
David McAtee was killed at his eatery on May 31 during intense protests in Louisville over the death of Breonna Taylor. McAtee was cooking miles away from the downtown demonstrations, but authorities had come to his eatery, YaYa’s BBQ, to disperse a crowd that had gathered after curfew.
McAtee fired two rounds from a handgun while standing in the doorway of his kitchen and was fatally shot by a National Guard member, investigators said. In a civil lawsuit, McAtee’s family says authorities escalated the violence that night and McAtee was unaware who was shooting into his restaurant.
Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said Tuesday that he would not present the case to a grand jury for consideration of potential charges against the Guard members or Louisville officers. He said a federal investigation of the matter was pending.
Wine said in a media release that Guard members “reasonably believed, based on the facts and circumstances, that Mr. McAtee posed an immediate threat of death or serious injury to them or to another person.”
Steve Romines, a lawyer for McAtee’s family, said he wasn’t surprised that prosecutors would not be seeking charges for officers or Guard members involved in the shooting.
“When private citizens are forced to act in self defense, they are charged and have to present that defense to a jury,” Romines said in a statement to the AP. “Cops are summarily exonerated without any proof ever being presented. Does anyone really doubt why it continues to happen?”
Investigators determined last year that a Kentucky National Guard member fired the fatal bullet, based on shell casing analysis. But they were unable to determine which Guard member fired the shot. In all, 19 rounds were fired by two Guard members and two Louisville officers after McAtee fired the first of two shots, according to Wine.
The Guard was in the city to help enforce a curfew amid protests spurred by the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Taylor, who was fatally shot by police on March 13, 2020.
Wine said McAtee knew about the 9 p.m. curfew. When officers arrived on the scene, one officer, Katie Crews, fired several pepper balls toward YaYa’s where McAtee’s niece was standing, according to Wine’s statement. Officers were seen on surveillance video shooting pepper balls into the area where McAtee was cooking outdoors and inside his kitchen.
Romines has said Louisville officers violated use of force policies that night. The lawsuit filed by McAtee’s family last year said authorities “exhibited a reckless disregard” for McAtee’s rights.
Crews and another officer who fired that night did not turn on their body cameras, which prompted the firing of former Police Chief Steve Conrad.
State officials, in a release of preliminary information about the shooting, said National Guard members were returning fire, “which is ... what any law enforcement would do in that case.”
Wine offered condolences to McAtee’s family in the statement Tuesday.
“By all accounts, David McAtee was well liked by the community, his patrons, and members of the Louisville Metro Police Department,” Wine said.