LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A former Louisville Metro Police officer who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor deprivation of civil rights under the color of law for her actions the night David McAtee was killed in 2020 should be sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service, prosecutors say.
In October, Crews admitted she used "unreasonable force" by shooting pepper balls at McAtee's niece, Machelle McAtee, on June 1, 2020, striking her once in the shoulder, as the woman was standing on private property and not a threat to officers.
While attorneys for McAtee’s family say Crews initiated the sequence of events leading to David McAtee’s death, federal prosecutors asked for a sentence of no incarceration, arguing, in part, Crews was fairly new on the force and “clearly could not have foreseen the tragic outcome of her actions in this case.”
And while a pepper ball gun is considered a dangerous weapon under sentencing guidelines, prosecutors wrote that many officers perceive them as “minimal force” and similar to paintball guns.
“In using a weapon that most LMPD officers equate with a 'paintball gun,' Defendant Crews likely did not foresee the likelihood of injury," prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's office wrote in a sentencing recommendation on Wednesday.
Under terms of the plea agreement reached in October, Crews could be placed on probation with the stipulation that she not seek a job in law enforcement again.
Crews was initially charged with a felony and was facing up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors agreed to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor carrying a maximum of one year behind bars.
The sentencing memorandum lays out the reasoning behind why prosecutors agreed to the plea deal.
U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Beaton will ultimately decide whether to accept the plea deal and recommended punishment at the sentencing scheduled for Jan. 30.
If Judge Beaton decides the plea agreement is too lenient, it would be withdrawn and both sides would resume negotiations. If Beaton accepts the plea, Crews will still be able to vote and own a firearm.
In the sentencing memorandum, prosecutors made the case that Crews should avoid any incarceration, noting she has no prior criminal history, accepted responsibility for her actions, had only been with the department two years and had never previously used a pepper ball gun in the field, according to the filing.
“Her decision to deploy a pepperball directly at (Machelle McAtee) was a quick decision that did not involve planning or deliberation,” prosecutors wrote. “While a pepperball gun is a dangerous weapon under the guidelines, many LMPD officers perceive it as minimal force.”
Crews was also likely acting on high emotions from previous days of city-wide protests revolving around the Breonna Taylor slaying on March 13, 2020, according to the prosecution.
While working downtown on May 28, Crews was “accosted by a female protestor,” according to the filing. A picture of this encounter was published in The Courier-Journal, and Crews, prosecutors said, posted a comment on Facebook that “expresses delight at the prospect of a pepperball gun being used to cause pain to this particular prosecutor.”
The picture appears to show a female protester handing Crews a flower, but Crews wrote that the woman "was saying and doing a lot more than 'offering flowers' to me.
"P.S. I hope the pepper balls that she got lit up with a little hurt," she wrote on Facebook. "Come back and get you some tonight ole girl, I'll be on the line again tonight."
The prosecution argued that Crews’ actions “were likely motivated, at least in part, by these emotions. However, (the prosecution) did not identify any uses of excessive force by Defendant Crews predating the incident.”
And since the incident, Crews has maintained employment and is a contributing member to society, according to the sentencing recommendation. She works as a K-9 handler, though not with law enforcement, according to the sentencing filing.
“Given the circumstances, a sentence of probation is sufficient to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant," the U.S. Attorney's office concluded.
Attorneys for McAtee’s family said, "Ms. Crews accepted responsibility for her role in this and the family feels that sending her to prison would only make it worse when it is the LMPD as a whole that inadequately trained her and sent her there that night that deserves the lion's share of blame."
The incident and subsequent death of McAtee, killed by a Kentucky National Guard soldier, occurred after Louisville police and guard members arrived at Dino’s Food Mart at 26th Street and Broadway in the Russell neighborhood to disperse a crowd in violation of the then-citywide curfew in response to protests over the death of Taylor.
Crews told investigators she shot at Machelle McAtee because she "didn't comply" with orders. Machelle McAtee was standing in the doorway of a private business.
Video shows that as Machelle McAtee is pulled inside by David McAtee, he leans out the door and fires a bullet. When he reaches out and fires again seconds later, Crews, LMPD Officer Allen Austin and two members of the National Guard returned fire, 18 shots in total.
An unidentified guardsman fired the only bullet that struck and killed McAtee, 53. He was shot once in the chest.
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