ABOVE PHOTO: Protesters walk down Main Street in Lexington, Ky., during a rally against the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)
By Bruce Schreiner And Sophia Tulp
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — 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.
David McAtee, known for offering meals to police officers, died early Monday while police officers and National Guard soldiers were enforcing a curfew amid waves of protests over a previous police shooting in Kentucky’s largest city. Police said they were responding to gunfire from a crowd that had gathered there.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer revealed that 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.”
Conrad had previously announced his resignation, which was to take effect at the end of June. Deputy police chief Robert Schroeder will step in as acting chief immediately, Fischer said.
Police did retrieve video from crime center cameras that show 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, and have been placed on administrative leave.
“That is completely unacceptable,” he said.
McAtee, whose YaYa’s BBQ Shack is near where the shooting occurred, was mourned by hundreds of people who returned to the site hours afterward.
Christopher 2X, an anti-violence activist and executive director of the group Game Changers, said McAtee was well liked, adding: “I’ve never known him to be aggressive in any kind of way.”
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.
Gov. Andy Beshear, who had pressed Louisville police to release video from the shooting, authorized state police to independently investigate or oversee the probe into the shooting,
“It’s really important for the truth to get out there,” he said. “But I think it’s also really important in ensuring that we don’t have violence, if people can see it and know that — good, bad or ugly — we’re being absolutely transparent about it.”
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 National Guard soldiers crouched behind cars.
Kris Smith said he was at a restaurant — “just outside having a good time, having drinks, eating barbecue” — when the soldiers arrived.
“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 heard a loud noise, and a few minutes later gunfire erupted, he said.
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.
Last week, before the Kentucky National Guard was mobilized, seven people were wounded when gunshots erupted during a protest in downtown Louisville. Police said none of the seven, who are recovering, were shot by police. They have not announced any arrests.
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.
Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, pleaded for peace while demanding justice for her daughter.