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Former Louisville officer pleads guilty to using excessive force

Katie R. Crews shot a Black woman with a pepper ball in June 2020 as police attempted to enforce a curfew during the protests around Breonna Taylor’s death

Former Louisville Metro Police officer Katie R. Crews. (Louisville Metro Police Department/AP)

A former Louisville police officer has pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor count of using excessive force in a case that stemmed from the fallout of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020 and further exacerbated public outrage over the treatment of Black residents.

Katie R. Crews, 29, admitted in a plea hearing Tuesday that she fired a pepper ball that struck Machelle McAtee on June 1, 2020, outside a popular barbecue restaurant. At the time, law enforcement authorities were attempting to enforce a city curfew intended to contain weeks of public protests after Taylor was killed during a police raid of her apartment in March of that year.

Crews was indicted this year on a felony count that carried a potential sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but the misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum penalty of one year and $100,000. Under the terms of the agreement, Crews, who was terminated from the Louisville police force in February, has forfeited her Kentucky law enforcement certification and will not be permitted to seek future employment in law enforcement, federal officials said.

Federal prosecutors said they are recommending one year of probation for Crews but no jail time. Her sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 30, 2023.

“Police officers who abuse their authority and act outside the bounds of the law will be held accountable,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement.

Breonna Taylor’s death sparked police reform in Louisville. But the path forward is complicated.

The case involving Crews contributed to more protests in Louisville over the police treatment of Black residents. Crews, 29, is White, while Machelle McAtee is Black. Though McAtee, who authorities said was on private property and not posing a threat to police, survived the shooting, her uncle, David McAtee, who owned Ya-Ya’s BBQ, was fatally shot by a Kentucky National Guard member that evening amid escalating tensions.

Authorities said David McAtee fired two shots after his niece was struck by the pepper ball, prompting officers from both the National Guard and Louisville police to fire at him with bullets. Local officials said the crowd outside the restaurant had not gathered to protest Taylor’s death, but rather was there to socialize, as the restaurant was a frequent gathering spot in the city’s West End, which is majority Black.

Louisville community leaders said they were disappointed that Crews is likely to avoid jail. She is the only law enforcement official to be charged in the events that led up to David McAtee’s death.

“I’m disappointed in the prosecutors. The idea that they would recommend probation — because of her actions, David McAtee is dead,” said Sadiqa Reynolds, the president of the Louisville Urban League.

Reflecting on the past 2½ years since Taylor’s death, she added: “The community again and again makes these small steps and is told to celebrate them. Everybody wants to be thankful for a little bit of justice that anybody would be charged. But in reality, [Katie Crews] can no longer work in law enforcement, but he [David McAtee] can no longer work, period.”

An attorney for Crews did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment.

Four officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s killing face federal charges

In August, the Justice Department filed federal civil rights charges against four current and former Louisville police officers in Taylor’s shooting death. The department also has spent 18 months conducting a civil “pattern or practice” investigation into the policies and procedures of the Louisville Police Department. Such probes typically result in court-mandated consent decrees that require local police agencies to implement significant changes.