A fired police officer has pleaded guilty to inappropriately firing a pepper ball gun at the niece of a beloved restaurant owner, who died soon after when a member of the Kentucky National Guard shot him.
The family of victim Machelle McAtee has said that when defendant Katie R. Crews struck her, it started a chain of events that resulted in Machelle’s uncle David McAtee, 53, unknowingly and tragically confronting law enforcement with a gun.
Louisville police and the National Guard were in the area of 26th Street and Broadway early June 1, 2020, breaking up a crowd at a Dino’s gas station amid protests over Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin recently murdering George Floyd, and also an unrelated, botched police raid in which Louisville officers shot and killed local woman Breonna Taylor in her apartment.
“According to LMPD policy and training, a nonlethal pepperball gun should be used only as an impact weapon — should only be shot at a person — if the person is actively aggressive,” the plea agreement stated.
There was a curfew. On arriving to the intersection, Crews briefly spoke to some on in a car in the Dino’s parking lot about the curfew, documents stated. She walked across 26th Street.
“Without having any additional one-on-one conversations to inform individuals of the curfew, Defendant shouted orders telling people to disperse, then fired pepperballs at the ground,” prosecutors said. “There was a small crowd of people outside a barbecue restaurant across 26th Street. As Defendant fired pepperballs, individuals who had been outside the restaurant quickly fled into the restaurant to seek cover. M.M. [Machelle McAtee] stood in the threshold of the restaurant. M.M. was not behaving aggressively and did not pose a threat to Defendant or others. Nonetheless, Defendant intentionally fired a pepperball directly at M.M., hitting M.M. on the shoulder.”
Machelle McAtee told VICE that she was on private property when she was struck by the pepper balls.
“We’re not on the sidewalk, we’re not on the street,” Machelle said. “I was blindsided.”
She said she did not realize it was the police until after.
Contrary to policy, Crews reportedly fired the pepper balls at Machelle instead of toward the ground.
She asserted she opened fire at the niece for not going inside.
“She was standing in, I don’t want to say, an aggressive manner, but as a manner that she was not going to go inside,” Crews told investigators, according to WDRB.
McAtee’s family sued, saying it was law enforcement who escalated the situation by firing pepper balls at Machelle standing just inside the kitchen of David’s restaurant YaYa’s BBQ. That resulted in David’s death, they said.
“Unaware of what was causing the chaos and who was shooting at his customers and his niece, David McAtee stepped out of the kitchen door to try and defend his restaurant, home, family and customers,” said the complaint obtained by WDRB.
A National Guard member shot him to death.
Last year, Commonwealth Attorney Thomas B. Wine of the 30th Judicial Circuit declined to bring a case involving McAtee’s death to a grand jury, saying that the man had fired two shots before one of the National Guard soldiers shot him in the chest.
According to Wine, Crews fired eight times; fellow Louisville officer Austin Allen fired once. National Guard soldier Andrew Kroszkewicz fired four times. National Guard Staff Sergeant Matthew Roark fired six. Wine said they could not determine if Kroszkewicz or Roark fired the fatal shot.
This is David McAtee – also known as “Yaya” & the “BBQ man”. He was shot to death after police say someone shot at them first as they tried to disperse a crowd this morning. Anger continues to swell as his body laid in the street for more than 12 hrs. The story at 5 on @WLKY. pic.twitter.com/RPZ2lt1NWe
— Stephon Dingle (@Stephon_Dingle) June 1, 2020
As part of the plea agreement, Crews agrees to give up her law enforcement certification and to keep from seeking or accepting any law enforcement job in the future. She faces up to one year behind bars, a maximum fine of $100,000, and one year of supervised release. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 30, 2023.
“Police officers who abuse their authority and act outside the bounds of the law will be held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute any officer who violates the public trust by using excessive force without cause.”
Crews was also put under investigation for a Facebook post mocking a protester, saying she hoped it hurt when she shot her with pepper balls.
Law&Crime contacted Crews’ attorney Steve Schroering for comment about the guilty plea.
“Thank you for reaching out but Katie Crews will be making no statements during the pendency of the proceedings,” he wrote in an email.
[Image via Louisville Metro Police Department]
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