Investigations

An administrative investigation into the Kentucky National Guard’s fatal deployment to Louisville last summer concluded that soldiers followed proper training and procedures when responding to protests — and when officers returned gunfire and killed David McAtee.

But how the investigation drew those conclusions and what lessons they learned from the deployment remain secret, because most of the documents provided to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting in response to an open records request are heavily redacted.

The guard has refused to name the soldier who shot David McAtee or the unit they were part of, and nearly all the recommendations for future crowd control deployments were completely blacked out.

Jared Bennett | wfpl.org

A page from the Kentucky National Guard’s after-action report.

Kentucky National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Stephen Martin said in an email that most of the details and recommendations won’t be shared with the public “due to operational security and protection of the force requirements.”

Specific information related to the killing of McAtee was withheld at the request of the Department of Justice, which is still conducting its own investigation into the shooting and asked the guard not to release information that could be used in federal prosecutions.

KyCIR first requested the documents last July, and the investigation was projected to be complete soon after. National Guard spokesperson Martin said as recently as this month that the report was not finished, citing “other priorities” for the investigators. But the after-action report is dated in late June 2020, and the administrative investigation is dated Aug. 30, 2020.

When asked why the report wasn’t released sooner, Martin said the report was subject to a review through the chain of command. He provided a letter from the guard’s attorney saying the legal review was complete; that letter was dated the afternoon of May 5, the same day KyCIR published a story about the delayed release of the report.

The McAtee Investigation

Gov. Andy Beshear activated the guard on May 30 to support law enforcement in Louisville after large protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor erupted downtown. Beshear’s activation order says he was calling in the National Guard “for the purposes of protecting lives and property and enforcing the laws of the Commonwealth.”

The records released this week include the “mission tasking order” from that deployment, which explains the threats the guard was called to respond to and the specific instructions given to deployed soldiers, but that information is all redacted.

After midnight on June 1, after the protests downtown had dispersed, soldiers accompanied Louisville Metro Police officers to the West End, where a large and predominantly Black crowd was gathered in a parking lot at the corner of 26th Street and West Broadway. LMPD officers fired pepper balls into the crowd and at McAtee’s restaurant, Yaya’s BBQ. As people ran into his restaurant, McAtee leaned out the door and fired a shot; when he leaned out a second time, two LMPD officers and two members of the National Guard fired their weapons. A Guardsman fired the only bullet that struck and killed McAtee.

The National Guard ended its mission in Louisville on June 7.

By then, Brigadier General Bryan Howay had already commissioned an investigator from the Indiana National Guard to answer a few questions raised in the wake of McAtee’s killing. 

Those questions included:

  • Why was this particular (and to the public, unnamed) unit tasked with this mission? 
  • Were they properly trained in crowd control? 
  • Were they qualified to use the M-4 rifles they carried and fired when they shot McAtee?
  • Were they given specific instructions on use of force during the mission? 
  • And was their use of force consistent with the mission, command policy and state law?

On each point, the investigative officer, Brigadier General Steven T. King of the Indiana National Guard, found the guard members were prepared, well trained and acted lawfully.

The After-Action Review

The after-action review included 66 recommendations, but only three were made public. One noted that the guard should continue to provide soldiers with resources around behavioral health. The other two dealt with personnel reports.

The review did include one “overall recommendation”: that the Kentucky National Guard develop response guidelines and make sure command staff can deliver on the responses for similar actions.

But much of the specifics contained in the review are redacted. Even a paragraph explaining the concept of an after-action report was deemed by the guard to be private.

Jared Bennett | wfpl.org

A timeline from the National Guard’s after-action review is almost entirely redacted.

A timeline of the events of early June was redacted, according to the guard, because revealing the information has a “reasonable likelihood” of threatening public safety.

When asked to summarize what the National Guard would do differently while responding to future protests, Martin of the Kentucky National Guard said only that the records were not releasable.