Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad fired after David McAtee shooting, city unrest
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the end, it was one mistake too many for embattled Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad.
On Monday afternoon, Mayor Greg Fischer fired Conrad, effective immediately, after learning that officers at the fatal shooting of popular eatery owner David McAtee did not have their body cameras turned on.
"This type of institutional failure will not be tolerated," said Fischer, who later added that "an immediate change in leadership is required."
Both LMPD officers and National Guard soldiers fired their weapons early Monday morning, killing McAtee, the owner of YaYa's BBQ in western Louisville, after officials said someone shot at LMPD officers from a parking lot at 26th and Broadway.
The incident is under state, federal and local police investigation.
Conrad, who served as chief for eight years, had said last month he would retire at the end of June amid increasing pressure in the wake of a different fatal police shooting: that of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old ER technician who was killed March 13 in her apartment.
But Fischer said it had become clear in recent days that the city could not wait for a change in leadership.
He relieved Conrad of his duties and put Deputy Chief Robert Schroeder in charge as interim police chief after finding out that the officers had not activated their body cameras at the McAtee shooting, violating policy that has been the subject of much scrutiny in recent weeks.
There is no body camera footage of the fatal shooting of McAtee or Taylor.
The officers in the Taylor case were not required to wear body cameras because they were in the Criminal Interdiction Unit. The city has since revised that policy.
Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that Conrad's firing "had to happen."
"Two incidences of this significance, no body cameras — it had to happen," Beshear said. "It was the right move."
Council President David James, D-6th District, a frequent critic of the chief, said he was saddened "that it took this much calamity in our city to remove the chief of police."
Fischer's decision to remove Conrad from office brings to an end several turbulent years for the former chief, who led a department through scandals and a skyrocketing homicide rate.
His retirement announcement in mid-May said it had been the "highlight of my professional career to be Louisville's police chief." A spokeswoman for the department had said at the time that the mayor had not asked Conrad to resign.
'My son didn't hurt nobody':David McAtee, business owner, killed by authorities
On Monday, however, Fischer made clear that he had immediately removed Conrad of his duties.
Despite the firing, Conrad will still receive payment for any days earned and will still have his pension, Fischer said.
Earlier in the day, Beshear had called for camera footage — "body camera and otherwise" — from the incident to be released so that Kentuckians could "see for themselves" whether the actions taken by law enforcement were justified or cause for more concern.
It's not clear when he was made aware that Louisville Metro Police officers on scene were not recording body camera footage.
In an evening press briefing, Beshear said he hopes that Louisville protesters see that "steps are being taken" and that they know he recognizes some of the facts that have come out about McAtee's fatal shooting were "not acceptable."
"Before people can have trust that we will work for change, they've got to see that things make you mad, too," he said. "… People need to know that you care, that you're vested, that you're committed to doing what's right.
"Now is a chance to get things right. And I hope those tonight can believe in that sincerity and can give us that opportunity."
Ryan Nichols, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police representing Louisville Metro Police officers, said he didn't know all of Fischer's specific reasons for firing Conrad but said he doubts it will be a "magic bullet" to quell protesters.
"If it helps in any way, then that's good," Nichols said.
Outcry over the fatal police shooting of Taylor has rocked Louisville in recent weeks and, since Thursday, has led to nightly protests with hundreds of people flocking to downtown streets to demand justice.
Scrutiny on city leaders and police has led to several policy changes, including expanded body camera requirements and the suspension of no-knock warrants.
Criminal charges against Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were dismissed, pending further investigation. And Fischer has called for a civilian review board of the police department to have subpoena powers.
But apparent violations of policy in yet another fatal police shooting proved a bridge too far for Fischer's loyalty to Conrad, who weathered several high-profile scandals.
The Louisville native began with the Louisville Police Department as a patrol officer in 1980, rising to assistant chief in what later became Louisville Metro Police, before leaving to head the police force in Glendale, Arizona.
He took over as chief of Louisville Metro Police in 2012. During his tenure, he was praised for some transparency efforts, but support eroded amid a spiking murder rate.
The Fraternal Order of Police and Louisville Metro Council cast no-confidence votes in his leadership in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
On top of the homicides, the department faced scandals that included the revelation that officers had sexually assaulted teens in the department's youth Explorer Scout program.
A report by a former U.S. attorney found "violations of police and mistakes in judgment, some significant" by department leaders. It also reported that Conrad aborted an investigation into one of the officers, allowing him to resign instead of be fired.
More recently, amid the nationwide attention on the fatal police shooting of Taylor, Fischer's support of his chief flagged and he declined to say he had faith in Conrad's leadership.
Before his firing, Conrad had planned to stay on as head of the agency through the end of the budget cycle.
Under a restructuring, Schroeder will report to Amy Hess, the chief of public safety, rather than directly to Fischer.