Former Louisville Metro Police Department officer Katie Crews, who fired a pepper ball gun in the moments preceding the fatal shooting of West End barbecue chef David McAtee in June 2020, had taken a refresher course on how to use a pepper ball gun within months of the incident, federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum this week.
Crews has been federally charged with using unreasonable force by firing pepper balls at a woman identified by prosecutors as “M.M.” The incident happened in the moments before McAtee was killed as LMPD officers and Kentucky National Guard troops moved to disperse people violating a 9 p.m. curfew at the intersection of 26th and Broadway in Louisville’s predominantly Black West End on June 1, 2020.
While LMPD officers are trained to only fire pepper balls at a person’s body if they are behaving aggressively, prosecutors say Crews fired at the woman “who was not behaving aggressively and did not pose a threat,” striking her in the shoulder. According to the sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors, Crews had learned how to use a pepper ball gun during basic training in 2018, and received a refresher course on pepper ball guns in March 2020, just months before the incident.
Pepper ball guns are similar to paintball guns, but deploy a chemical irritant. They are considered a non-lethal weapon by LMPD and were frequently used during the 2020 protests to disperse crowds.
After Crews began firing pepper balls outside McAtee’s restaurant at 26th and Broadway, people began running into McAtee’s small kitchen to take cover. As this was happening, McAtee leaned outside, raised his arm in the air and fired two shots from a handgun in what his family would describe as warning shots. In response, police and National Guard troops opened fire, with a bullet fired by a National Guard soldier killing McAtee.
While the curfew was a response to days of protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor, 26th and Broadway was far removed from the center of protest activity and there were no protests at the location at the time troops and police moved in.
Without naming Crews, former LMPD Chief Erika Shields said in 2021 that she believed that the firing of pepper balls that night “really jump-started the chaos that ensued” and was the result of one individual’s decision-making.
LMPD fired Katie Crews in February of last year for her actions during the night McAtee was killed and an earlier Facebook post in which she mocked a protester who was hit by pepper balls. LMPD did not publicly acknowledge that she had been removed from the force until after federal charges were announced against Crews more than a month later.
According to the sentencing memorandum, which was filed on Wednesday, prosecutors will ask that Crews receive probation and not imprisonment at her Jan. 30 sentencing. As part of her plea deal, Crews agreed to surrender her law enforcement certification and not seek a law enforcement job in the future.
Sentencing decisions are ultimately up to the judge. In October, U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Beaton overrode requests from both prosecutors and defense attorneys for lighter sentences for two officers facing federal charges in relation to LMPD’s “Slushygate” scandal.
That same judge will sentence Crews later this month.