Surveillance video released by police suggests that beloved Louisville barbecue chef David McAtee fired a gun before cops and National Guard soldiers shot and killed him early Monday morning.
“The video appears to show Mr. McAtee firing a gun outside of his business door as officers who are using pepper balls… were approaching,” interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said. “The video does not provide all the answers, but we are releasing it to provide transparency.”
Before the footage was released on Tuesday afternoon, Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher showed it to McAtee’s mother, Odessa Riley, at her home. The video is from two cameras, one inside, the other outside McAtee’s eatery.
The timestamp on the released exterior footage shows that it begins at 12:14 a.m. McAtee can be seen at the first of four big grills set up along a chain link fence running perpendicular to the street, marking off his spot from an adjoining vacant lot. He is wearing black shorts and an outsized white, orange, and yellow top. He has a pair of silver tongs in his right hand and is tending to some cooking ribs.
McAtee then steps over to speak to three female customers who are sitting on high stools at an outside table just in from the sidewalk. He does not seem to notice first of five white vans with tinted windows begin to roll down the street beyond the fence at 12:14:30 a.m.
McAtee starts toward a side door leading into his kitchen but then turns back in the direction of the girls. He is facing the street, but his attention is on the ribs. He gives them a quick check without seeming to notice the last of the white vans going past. He disappears inside, the tongs still in his right hand, at 12:14:53 a.m.
Four seconds later, the first Kentucky National Guard ruck rolls by, a second directly behind it. The trucks and the white vans—unmarked police vehicles—stop just out of camera view at a gas station across the street that is the most popular nighttime hangout in that section of Louisville.
At 12:15:12 a.m., McAtee reappears. He seems relaxed and gives no sign he is aware that cops and soldiers have spread out at the far side of the gas station to disperse the hangout crowd as they have with protesters for being out after the 11 p.m. curfew.
McAtee uses the tongs to check the ribs again for a few seconds. He has gone back inside 10 seconds later. HIs niece emerges and stands across from the girls in white pants and a black top. She returns inside at 12:16:00.
At 12:16:12, the customers at the outside table suddenly hop off the stools and scurry inside, followed by people who have been hanging out on the sidewalk and at the gas station. Two cops and two National Guard soldiers are approaching from across the street.
One of the cops stops at the edge of the now abandoned outdoor eating area. The cop aims a pepper ball gun at the open doorway beyond at the last of the people fleeing inside.
The interior video shows the fleeing people crowding into the spot. McAtee steps over from the kitchen area, apparently to make sure they continue on in. His niece remains just inside the entrance, as he begins to peer out.
At that moment, the niece is suddenly hit by at least one pepper ball. The impact leaves a puff of white smoke and she falls back, much as if she had been shot.
McAtee steps protectively in front of her. The hand that had been holding the tongs is now clutching the automatic pistol he started carrying after being robbed. He leans into the doorway and raises the gun as he would if he were firing into the air.
McAtee stands by the doorway for nine seconds and then leans out and raises his right arm again, as he would if he were firing another round into the air. He immediately stumbles back, dropping the gun as his right hand goes to his chest.
McAtee staggers inside, out of camera view. His niece closes the door with her left hand and points with her extended right index finger to the gun on the floor.
The exterior video shows the cops and the soldiers retreating and taking cover on hearing the first shot a short time before. They begin firing at exactly the end of the nine-second interval established by the interior camera between the first and second time McAtee reached out with his upraised right arm.
Exactly two minutes and 10 seconds after the police and the National Guard begin to roll up, McAtee has been mortally wounded.
In the aftermath, police reported that one of the cops involved in the shooting was Katie Crews. She had gone on Facebook earlier in the week to remark on a news photo taken on Thursday of a female protester offering her flowers.
“I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt,” Crews wrote in her post.
Police also reported that Crews and her partner had failed to activate their body cameras at the time of the shooting. The mayor held Police Chief Steven Conrad responsible and fired him.
At least there was the surveillance video. Those who saw it after it was released included David James, a police officer who retired after 30 years and is now president of the Louisville Metro Council. McAtee was a longtime friend, and James knew him to be uncommonly generous, ready to accept whatever people had if they lacked the price of a meal.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” James told The Daily Beast.
Jame last saw McAtee about a week ago. McAtee had been his usual smiling and happy self.
“He’s just a friendly guy,” James said.
James was reluctant to speculate on what exactly happened until the state police finish a full investigation.
“A video is only a partial snapshot of what went into the events that night,” James said. “I’m interested in seeing exactly what happened and why it happened, how it happened, and who did what, when, and how.”
He added, “I’m interested in seeing how the pepper balls played into that building also.”
One friend of McAtee’s speculated off the record that McAtee had been acting out of a protective impulse, warning away a sudden threat to his niece and others.
“I think he just got upset and he got to firing in the air,” the friend said.
The friend noted of the tragic result, “Police don’t like gunshots.”
McAtee’s mother could not be reached for comment after the mayor showed her the video footage that was then released to the public. The mayor afterward marveled to the press that she had told him she was praying for him.
“Miss Odessa is a woman of unimaginably incredible grace,” he said. “And when you think what she’s gone through in the way that she’s handling that and says she’s praying for me.”
He added, “These are the heroes that we’ve got in our community.”