A former Kentucky police officer indicted after using force on a group of protesters during the 2020 summer of civil unrest sparked by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor has pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violation. The former Louisville Metro Police officer admitted that the person she harmed posed no threat to her, but she still responded aggressively.
According to a statement released by the Department of Justice on Wednesday, Oct. 12, Katie R. Crews, an ex-cop on the Louisville Police Department, has admitted in a federal court she violated a Black woman’s civil rights on or about June 1, 2020, while acting in her capacity as an officer of the law. She accepted a plea deal to satisfy one misdemeanor count for using unreasonable force.
The 29-year-old confessed to shooting Machelle McAtee with a pepperball as McAtee was standing on private property. McAtee was selling plates of food with her uncle David McAtee at his YaYa’s BBQ restaurant across from the Dino’s Food Market where people were gathered as the evening of Sunday, May 31, 2020, drew close to midnight.
Crews and her fellow officers were assigned to patrol the predominantly Black community to enforce a curfew. But supporters of the McAtee family state the protests — occurring exactly one week after George Floyd was killed — were actually downtown and far from the area the officers were canvassing and the law enforcement contingent was there “for a show of force (and) intimidation.”
The Jefferson County commonwealth’s attorney, Thomas B. Wine, later said he believed Crews might have misjudged why the people were assembled and thought she was doing her job.
Wine said, “Their primary goal was to clear a crowd from the parking lot at Dino’s Food Market. 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.”
“There was no evidence that the crowd was engaged in any type of protest or destructive behavior,” Wine assessed.
Crews’ shots prompted those gathered to rush into McAtee’s kitchen. The officer never stopped firing in that direction, and Machelle, who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, was struck by one of Crews’ nonlethal rounds.
After hearing the explosion of the pepper ball, David came to the door, thinking someone was shooting into his business. He fired two shots. This prompted the LPD and National Guard to respond with deadly force.
The attorney said the shots from David “switched from non-lethal weapons such as pepper ball guns to service weapons,” leading to a fatal shot that ended 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 were directed toward YaYa’s BBQ. It is unclear whose shot pierced McAtee’s chest, but the man died before the paramedics could arrive.
Observers argue if Crews had not used excessive force and tossed the pepper spray projectile McAtee would not have been killed.
She was fired for escalating the conflict on this night and for writing on her social media posts where she taunted protesters for taking to the street to protest racial discrimination and police brutality.
While the former police officer is not being charged with murder in David McAtee’s death, she now admits her actions were out of order.
For pleading guilty to the misdemeanor, she will face up to one year of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $100,000. In addition to the penalties, Crews has forfeited her Kentucky law enforcement certification and thus is ineligible to serve as a police officer in the state.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said her office is making sure that those who serve to protect the community are held to a certain standard of practice and conduct.
“Police officers who abuse their authority and act outside the bounds of the law will be held accountable,” Clarke said. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute any officer who violates the public trust by using excessive force without cause.”
McAtee family attorney Steve Romines told The Associated Press this week the family is “glad that there has been an acknowledgment of the gross misconduct of (Louisville police) the night of David’s death.”
Romines’ emailed statement to the AP continued by saying Crews was not “a lone wolf who decided to go rogue.”
He has filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the McAtee family blaming Crews and other officers for their aggressive tactics on the community on YaYa’s property. He also said there is a culture in the department that encourages officers to “violate policies and harass people.”
One example of this helped lead to Crews being fired.
Days before the shooting, Crews was photographed in downtown Louisville with a protester who gave her a flower. The former officer posted the image on social media with the caption, “the pepper balls that (the protester) 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.”
Crews will be sentenced by a federal judge on Jan. 30, 2023.