Lawyer: Video raises questions over man’s death in Kentucky

National News

Tracey Cox VanDyke prays Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Louisville, Ky., near the intersection where David McAtee was killed Sunday evening. Louisville police say video obtained from security cameras at McAtee’s business and an adjoining business show that McAtee fired a gun as police and National Guard soldiers were enforcing a curfew approached his business. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Video released by Louisville police showing a black man’s fatal encounter with law enforcement raises “more questions than it answers,” an attorney for the family said Wednesday as people close to the popular barbecue chef wondered how he ended up a casualty of the unrest.

The video appears to show David McAtee opening fire early Monday as officers approached his business, the city’s interim police chief has said. Police and National Guard soldiers were trying to clear a crowd from a parking lot to enforce a curfew. Witnesses said the crowd was not protesting.

The 53-year-old McAtee, a well-known community figure who fed police for free from his barbecue stand, was shot to death during the encounter with police and guardsmen. They said the video showed that he fired his gun as officers approached the business firing pepper balls to clear the lot.

Attorney Steve Romines, representing McAtee’s mother, Odessa Riley, said Wednesday that she wants “the truth” of what led to her son’s death. In a statement, Romines downplayed the video and questioned police motives for releasing it. Police said they did so to be transparent and said the video was obtained from security cameras at McAtee’s business and another business.

“The small snippet of video released raises more questions than it answers,” Romines said. “The police continually refuse to release evidence in these type of cases because they say the investigation is ongoing, yet they choose to selectively release … video to try and bolster an untenable position.”

The videos show McAtee raising his arm past his doorway, but his hand is blocked from camera view. After he’s struck by a bullet, he stumbles back inside, drops a gun and falls to the ground.

Video from a different camera posted outside the building shows a beverage can on a table outside the door exploding and falling to the ground just before smoke emerges from inside the building, a possible indication that McAtee was fired upon first. Police have said they shot pepper balls at people violating the curfew but have not been clear about whether that preceded the fatal exchange.

Louisville’s interim police chief, Robert Schroeder, said Tuesday that the reason McAtee fired remains an unresolved question. He was asked Wednesday if the video showed McAtee shooting at police.

“That is something we don’t know,” he said. “It appears he was shooting a firearm. We do not know if he was targeting police. We do not know what he was shooting at. That is something that the investigation will have to reveal.”

Police also released video from street cameras operated by the department.

Gov. Andy Beshear authorized state police to independently investigate the shooting. The Democratic governor referred to the video as “only one piece” of the probe into circumstances leading to McAtee’s death.

The Rev. Frank Smith Jr., who prayed with McAtee’s family hours after the fatal shooting, said Wednesday he didn’t see McAtee as an aggressor in the confrontation.

“I don’t believe that in any way he was aggressing toward shooting at anybody but was reacting to, seemingly, some kind of action coming toward his business,” he said.

McAtee was tending to his barbecue grills as law enforcement descended on his business.

“I just don’t know of anybody that’s busy cooking that’s now got an interest in killing,” said Smith, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition.

Guard soldiers and Louisville police fired about 18 shots, J. Michael Brown, secretary of Beshear’s executive Cabinet, has said. McAtee died of a single gunshot wound to the chest, the coroner’s office said.

Louisville’s police chief was fired this week after it came to light that officers involved in the shooting failed to activate their body cameras. That revelation only reinforced the mistrust that many in the community have toward police, Smith said.

“It speaks to the concern that our community has with policing — that they are enforcing laws without obeying their own regulations,” he said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Wednesday the city plans to pay for an independent review of its police department. Officials plan to hire an outside group to perform a “comprehensive, top-to-bottom” review, he said.

The city has been hit by days of protests demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was 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 while attempting to enforce a search warrant. No drugs were found in the home. The demonstrations also erupted over the death of a black man in Minneapolis — George Floyd — in an encounter with police.

Fischer said the outside review will focus on such issues as police training, use of force, bias-free policing, accountability and community engagement. The evaluation will include listening sessions in the community, the mayor said.

“You have to take a look at the hard policies, procedures and structure of our police department to ensure that they align with the values and goals of our entire community,” he said. “Outside perspective to help us make those determinations is needed.”

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