A federal grand jury has charged an ex-cop from Louisville, Kentucky, for allegedly using unreasonable force while trying to enforce the city’s curfew during civil unrest sparked by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020.
The female officer fired pepper balls at a group of Black civilians, setting off a course of events that would leave one hometown hero dead.
According to the New York Times, the United States Department of Justice has accused Katie R. Crews, 29, of violating a Black woman’s rights while serving in the capacity of an officer of the Louisville Metro Police Department on close to midnight on May 31, 2020.
This action directly led to the killing of the woman’s uncle moments later in the morning on June 1.
A statement from the DOJ said the Indiana native shot a pepper ball “at an individual, while the individual was standing on private property and not posing a threat to the defendant or others.”
Crews, who had been on administrative leave since June 1, 2020, and fired February 2022, believed she was enforcing a citywide 9 p.m. curfew mandated by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer one day earlier.
She, along with other officers and soldiers from the National Guard engaged by the governor, was locked at the intersection of 26th Street and West Broadway in a predominantly Black neighborhood with the intention to keep the peace.
Thomas B. Wine, the Jefferson County commonwealth’s attorney, contends that she misjudged why a group of Black people was assembled in the parking lot of Dino’s Food Market and across the street from a foodery called “YaYa’s BBQ” where David “YaYa” McAtee, a popular chef, was selling plates of food late on the night in question.
“Their primary goal was to clear a crowd from the parking lot at Dino’s Food Market,” Wine said. “After the officers and soldiers arrived, they began clearing the parking lot and the surrounding streets. Most civilians in the crowd were compliant and began to exit the area, either by walking away or driving off in their personal vehicles.”
Wine assessed, “There was no evidence that the crowd was engaged in any type of protest or destructive behavior.”
Still, Crews fired into the crowd a series of pepper balls. One landed close to Machelle McAtee, the chef’s niece, who was standing under a blue canopy outside of the shop. She and others ran into the restaurant to escape the pepper ball shooting. Reports claim that people may not have been able to distinguish the sounds of the pepper balls and actual ammunition.
David emerged from the door of his business and fired one shot. He retreated but returned with a second shot, which escalated the police and the National Guard’s use of force.
Wine said the shots from David “switched from non-lethal weapons such as pepper ball guns to service weapons,” leading to a shot that ultimately took his life.
“After [David] McAtee’s second shot, Crews, LMPD officer Austin Allen, National Guard soldiers Andrew Kroszkewicz, and Staff Sergeant Matthew Roark all returned fire,” Wine stated. “Allen fired once, Crews fired eight times, Kroszkewicz fired four times and Roark fired six times.”
A total of 19 shots powered in the direction of YaYa’s BBQ, in the early morning of June. 1.
Eight of the shots came from Crews and the other 11 shots were from the National Guard and local police force. It is unclear which of the National Guard’s shots pierced McAtee’s chest, but the man died before the paramedics could arrive.
Wine said the police and National Guard used “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,” noting they were justified “to use deadly physical force in response to the deadly physical force used by Mr. McAtee against them.”
Because of this ruling, the officers were cleared of the killing of David McAtee. The state does not have laws that prosecute civil rights violations.
The federal indictment suggests that Crews was not justified in firing the pepper balls into the crowd.
WAVE 3 reports FBI’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Task Force have investigated Crews’ case to weigh in on the appropriateness of her conduct. Her own department was reviewing her for making comments on her social media accounts about the protest.
She wrote, in referencing another incident involving a woman in 2020, “Just so for it to be known. For anyone that knows me, my facial expression tells everything. P.S. I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little later on hurt. Come back and get ya some more ole girl, I’ll be on the line again tonight.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has since charged her for allegedly depriving Machelle McAtee of her civil rights under color of law when she fired at her, making this the first criminal charge filed in relation to the June 1 shooting.
Jamie McAtee, David’s brother, and Machelle’s uncle said “It’s still to this day, it’s very rough. It broke up a lot of our family, a lot of back-and-forths. We didn’t know who to talk to, who to confide in.”
“My niece, she still has scars to this day that, you know, remind her of that night that are never going to go anywhere,” Jamie continued. “So, that’s one great thing, but there’s other steps they have to be able to go to also to make it make sense in a way.”
A formal McAtee family statement was released by their lawyer, Steve Romines.
It read, “We agree with the Grand Jury’s decision today that criminal activity by LMPD in the unwarranted shooting at innocent bystanders outside of YaYa’s BBQ is what directly led to the death of David McAtee. These charges evidence LMPD’s complete disregard for its own policies and the safety of citizens of Louisville. The city’s denials of responsibility are just proof that despite claims of accountability and transparency, nothing has changed.”
A Louisville Metro Police Department statement says that Crews was terminated on Feb. 7, 2022, and is no longer a member of their force.