LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The family of a barbecue cook who was shot to death by a National Guard member during tense Louisville protests has filed a wrongful death suit against Louisville police officers and guard members.
The suit, filed Monday, alleges law enforcement officials used excessive force when they approached David McAtee’s barbecue stand to break up a crowd in early June. State officials said after an investigation that McAtee was killed by a National Guard member after McAtee fired his gun at them.
The shooting occurred during massive protests in Louisville that erupted the weekend after a 911 call by the boyfriend of Breonna Taylor was made public, and amid nationwide protests days after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. The National Guard members were sent in to help enforce a city-wide Louisville curfew.
The guard member who shot McAtee could not be identified because two were in the area when the fatal round was fired, J. Michael Brown, the secretary of the state’s executive cabinet, said in June after a state police investigation. The bullet came from a National Guard member's rifle, investigators determined.
Officers fired pepper balls to clear the crowd near McAtee's stand in the early morning of June 1 but the lawsuit said they continued to fire around and into McAtee's kitchen after the crowd cleared. McAtee and some family and friends had huddled inside the kitchen when police started firing the pepper balls. McAtee lived in a basement apartment in the same building, and his niece, Maychelle McAtee, worked with him at the eatery.
“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,” the suit said. “Immediately the police shot and killed him.”
Video evidence released to the public showed that law enforcement officials were firing pepper balls into McAtee's kitchen before McAtee drew his weapon.
Brown has said National Guard members were returning fire, which is "what any law enforcement would do in that case.”
The suit names 20 unidentified National Guard members and two Louisville police officers, Austin Allen and Katie Crews, who were at the scene that night. The suit was filed by McAtee's mother, Odessa Riley, and Maychelle McAtee, who was hit by pepper balls fired by police.
A National Guard spokesman did not return a request for comment Monday afternoon.
City and state officials have declined to name the National Guard members who were at the scene that night, according to the lawsuit.
The National Guard unit in Louisville that night was the 138th Field Artillery Brigade, based in Lexington. The unit is trained on law enforcement support missions.
The suit seeks unspecified exemplary, compensatory and punitive damages against the officers and guard members. It was filed by Louisville lawyers Steve Romines, Ted Shouse and Michael Goodwin.
Last week, the city of Louisville announced a $12 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by Breonna Taylor's mother against a group of officers who were involved in her March 13 shooting death. The settlement also included a long list of police reforms.
Taylor was shot to death March 13 after police carrying a warrant entered her home and returned fire after Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a shot, striking an officer. Walker has said he thought he was defending against an intruder.