Family of Slain Louisville BBQ Owner Files Suit Over Notorious Killing

Brett CarlsenThe family of David McAtee, a Black Louisville, Kentucky restaurateur who was shot and killed in

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Brett Carlsen
Brett Carlsen

The family of David McAtee, a Black Louisville, Kentucky restaurateur who was shot and killed in June by cops and the National Guard during protests over the police killing of local emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Monday, just over 48 hours after the man’s nephew was shot and killed in virtually the same spot.

It was the latest harrowing episode in a cycle of bloodshed that has seemingly singled out a beloved local family.

The lawsuit targets the Louisville Metro Police Department, the Kentucky National Guard, and a slew of officers and National Guard members the family says were involved in the June 1 shooting. It also names the two white Louisville cops previously identified as having been party to the killing—Katie Crews and Austin Allen. When, after the shooting, it was revealed that neither officer had their body camera activated, Mayor Greg Fischer fired Steven Conrad, the local police chief.

As has become routine in an era of increased scrutiny of police killings of people of color, the two officers were placed on leave, and a joint state-federal investigation was announced. But attorney Steve Romines, who is representing the McAtees, said the probe into the fatal shooting of the celebrated barbecue chef had been virtually invisible, and seemed to go nowhere.

“They had indicated that [the investigation] would be transparent and all the information would be provided,” Romines told The Daily Beast. “Literally none of it has been provided, and we’re left with no other option but to go forward [with our lawsuit]. I understand the need for a proper, thorough investigation to ensure justice, but there’s a big difference between that and dragging it out like this.”

The elder McAtee was killed when police and National Guard arrived to enforce a curfew amid the peak of Black Lives Matter protests sparked in part by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis—as well as the killing Taylor—this spring. On the night in question, a large crowd was eating at McAtee’s restaurant, Yaya’s BBQ Shack, and McAtee’s niece, Maychelle, was threatened by police projectiles as she stood by the doorway. In the lawsuit, McAtee claims she was hit three times. Police have said—and provided surveillance footage they say shows—that McAtee fired his own gun at least once from the restaurant as police and National Guard made their approach.

Almost as soon as police say McAtee fired, a hail of police and National Guard gunfire erupted, killing him. State officials later said they concluded that the fatal shot was fired by a member of the National Guard, and that the shooting was justified.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Louisville Metro Police Department said it did not comment on pending litigation. Crews could not immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit, and the National Guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Crews had reportedly mocked a demonstrator she encountered earlier that night, posting on Facebook: "I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt."

When reached by phone Monday, Allen told “I wish I could comment, but you know how it is.”

Law enforcement officials claim McAtee fired at least two rounds from a 9mm pistol he wore on his belt. Crews and Allen fired at McAtee at least 19 times, according to officials. The family’s lawsuit does not say McAtee fired on officers during the incident, but explains that he had been advised by police officers who regularly ate at YaYa’s to carry a gun for his own protection.

The family is seeking unspecified monetary damages, including funeral expenses. And now they are facing an even fresher tragedy.

Marvin McAtee—David McAtee’s nephew—took over YaYa’s BBQ after his uncle’s death. Over the weekend, Marvin was reportedly shot and killed in an apparently unrelated incident just steps from where David was gunned down. Police said they have not yet identified any suspects.

Reached by phone, Odessa Riley, David McAtee’s grandmother, said she was planning her second funeral in three months—and couldn’t talk for long.

“Everybody’s on their way over,” Riley told The Daily Beast. “The family’s on their way over, the funeral home people are on their way over. Today is a bad day.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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