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Investigation Shows National Guard Bullet Killed David McAtee

A National Guard Humvee at a protest over police brutality in downtown Louisville on May 30, 2020.
A National Guard Humvee at a protest over police brutality in downtown Louisville on May 30, 2020.

The fatal shot that killed west Louisville restaurateur David McAtee came from the Kentucky National Guard, according to preliminary findings from an investigation of the shooting announced Tuesday by state officials.

J. Michael Brown, the secretary of the state’s executive cabinet, said the bullet pulled from McAtee’s body matched that of the rounds carried by the National Guard, making it clear that guardsmen — not Louisville Metro Police — are responsible for the fatal shot.

“We have no doubt,” Brown said Tuesday afternoon.

McAtee, 53, was killed just after midnight on June 1 in the doorway of his popular barbecue restaurant at the corner of 26th Street and Broadway. Police officials say officers and Guard members had come to the busy intersection to disperse a crowd that had gathered in violation of the curfew imposed last week amid a flurry of protests denouncing police violence.

LMPD officials have said McAtee was first to shoot, and the officers and Guard members returned fire. On Tuesday, Brown backed up that claim. 

He said gunshot residue was found on McAtee’s body and two casings recovered near the door of the restaurant matched the ammunition he carried in a pistol that same night.

It’s unclear specifically where McAtee was shooting, but Brown speculated it was towards the police and Guardsmen.

“And he did it twice,” Brown said.

In an emailed statement, Mayor Greg Fischer said McAtee’s death “is a tragedy – for his family, for our community, and for the nation. I will continue working with our residents to build the community that David loved into a just and equitable community."

Surveillance video footage from the evening that’s been released shows McAtee raise his arm out the doorway, but it does not show McAtee firing his weapon at police. The officers who fired on McAtee didn’t activate their body cameras, according to police.

McAtee, known as Yaya, was a fixture of the intersection in the city’s Russell neighborhood. He was well known for his barbecue and many have said he would often give food away, even to police officers. His family has dismissed the notion that McAtee would knowingly shoot at police officers.

Brown said the investigation is not complete, and there is much more information to be gathered and analyzed. But, releasing this “critical part” of the investigation was important, he said.

“It absolutely excludes Louisville Metro Police,” he said.

Brown said investigators are still conducting interviews, sifting through police dispatch, and examining video footage. The Kentucky State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation are also examining the shooting, he said.

Marvin McAtee, David McAtee’s nephew, said Tuesday evening in an interview that he wasn’t surprised to hear the fatal shot came from the National Guard. He is still gripped by confusion as to why the guardsmen had come to his corner in response to something as benign as a curfew.

“They should have never even came,” he said.

He’s fielded a barrage of media calls and interviews since his uncle’s death.  He didn’t watch Brown’s speech Tuesday evening, and he’s trying to not worry much about the specifics of the case right now. No matter who shot, he said the result was the same — his uncle died.

Now, he’s just focused on burying his uncle and carrying on his legacy.

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.