Louisville’s police chief was fired Monday after the mayor learned that officers involved in a shooting that killed the popular owner of a barbecue spot failed to activate body cameras during the chaotic scene. A huge group marched hours later to the spot in a peaceful protest.
David McAtee, known for offering meals to police officers, died early Monday while police officers and National Guard soldiers were enforcing a curfew amid ongoing protests over a previous police shooting in Kentucky’s largest city. Police said they were responding to gunfire from a crowd.
The U.S. attorney said federal authorities will join state police in investigating the shooting.
On Monday evening, a massive group stretching several blocks marched miles (kilometers) from downtown to where McAtee was killed. As protesters passed by, some motorists raised fists in the air and honked in solidarity.
Earlier, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer revealed authorities lacked body camera video for the investigation just hours after Kentucky’s governor demanded the release of police video.
“This type of institutional failure will not be tolerated,” Fischer said. “Accordingly, I have relieved Steve Conrad of his duties as chief of Louisville Metro Police Department.”
Gov. Andy Beshear later said the lack of body camera footage was unacceptable.
“This is the entire reason that we have those cameras,” the Democratic governor said at the state Capitol in Frankfort.
Beshear authorized state police to independently investigate, promising the probe will be conducted in an “honest and transparent way” and “not take months.”
U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman announced that federal authorities will take part.
“We understand this community’s need for answers and we will assess all the information, and will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law.” Coleman’s office said.
The shakeup at the top of the city’s police department came a month earlier than expected. Conrad had previously announced his resignation, which was to take effect at the end of June. Deputy Chief Robert Schroeder will step in immediately as chief, Fischer said.
The mayor also said the city’s curfew was being extended until June 8.
Police did retrieve video from crime center cameras that showed how the shooting unfolded, Schroeder said.
“It is taken from a distance, but it gives an overview of the scene and clearly shows the officers reacting to gunfire,” he said.
Two Louisville officers and two Guard soldiers returned fire, he said. The two officers violated policy by not wearing or activating body cameras, Schroeder said, adding they were placed on administrative leave.
McAtee, whose YaYa’s BBQ Shack is near where the shooting occurred, was mourned by hundreds of people who returned there hours later.
Christopher 2X, an anti-violence activist and executive director of the group Game Changers, said McAtee was well-liked.
“I’ve never known him to be aggressive in any kind of way,” he said.
Schroeder agreed that McAtee was friendly to police officers. “Over the years he’s been a good friend to the police officers … frequently making sure our officers had a good meal on their shifts,” he said.
Before his dismissal, Conrad confirmed the shooting happened around 12:15 a.m. Monday outside a food market on West Broadway, where police and the National Guard had been called to break up a group of people violating the city’s curfew.
Someone fired a shot at law enforcement officials, and both soldiers and officers returned fire, he said. Several “persons of interest” were being interviewed, he said.
News outlets showed video taken by someone in a car parked at a gas station. It recorded the sound of bullets being fired as groups of police and Guard soldiers crouched behind cars.
Kris Smith said he was at a restaurant — “just outside having a good time, having drinks, eating barbecue” — when events unfolded.
“As soon as I walk to my car they jump out with the sticks, the police jump out with their sticks and their shields and stuff on,” Smith said. “It looked like something out of a movie. It looked like a freaking war zone.”
He said he heard a loud noise, then gunfire minutes later.
Smith, who is black, said the group had nothing to do with the protests.
“Never thought I would experience that here in America,” he said.
Protesters have been demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed in her home in Louisville in March. The 26-year-old EMT was shot eight times by narcotics detectives who knocked down her front door as they attempted to enforce a search warrant. No drugs were found in the home.
After Taylor’s death, the mayor said Louisville police would be required to wear body cameras. Fischer said recently that officers in plainclothes units like the one that served a warrant at Taylor’s home would now wear the cameras during search warrants.