LOUISVILLE, Ky. – An African man was shot and killed by a Louisville Metro Police officer Saturday afternoon, after police say he grabbed a flagpole and swung it at the officer.
The man, whose name has not yet been released by authorities, was shot twice and died later at the hospital, according to the police department.
The African immigrant was a regular presence in the Old Louisville neighborhood surrounding the busy street corner where he was killed, neighbors said. A neighbor left a bundle of yellow lilies on the sidewalk where he fell.
Dozens began to gather there Saturday evening, trying to piece together what led to the fatal shooting and calling for police to quickly release footage from nearby surveillance cameras.
Police Chief Steve Conrad said a 22-year-old woman called the police just after 2 p.m. to report she had been assaulted near the corner of South Third and West Oak streets. The responding officer, who has not been identified by police, spotted a man who matched the description of the alleged assailant a block away, at South Fourth Street.
The officer pulled over and spoke briefly with the man, the chief said. The man started to walk off, then grabbed a metal flagpole, lunged toward the officer and started swinging, Conrad said.
The officer stepped backward and ordered the man to drop the pole, the department said. But he continued to swing, according to police.
Conrad said the officer fired two shots in self-defense.
The man was taken by ambulance to the University of Louisville Hospital, where he later died.
Kenneth Williams said he watched the shooting from across the street and refuted the police department's account. The man had been staggering down the street and looked dazed, Williams said.
He said the police officer got out of his car and confronted him, with his hand resting on his sidearm. Williams said it looked like the man "panicked." Williams said he picked up the pole, which had been standing outside a business, and reared it back over his shoulder. But he didn't swing it, Williams said.
Leslie Lewis, who works in a Laundromat nearby, ran outside as soon as she heard the shots and saw the man collapse onto the ground. She estimated the flagpole was about 6 feet long.
Nick Holiday said he knew the man well; they attended a recovery class together twice a week at a coffee shop nearby. The man, who police estimated to be in his 30s, emigrated from Africa a number of years ago, Holiday said. He didn't speak English well and struggled to understand what people said to him. He lived in an apartment building around the corner from the intersection where he was killed.
Holiday, and others gathered at the intersection Saturday evening, questioned why the officer resorted to deadly force when faced with a flagpole, rather than use a Taser or other non-lethal means. They called for a quick and transparent investigation into the killing.
The department's Public Integrity Unit is investigating. The officer was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of that inquiry.
The woman who was assaulted was treated for her injuries at a hospital and released. Police did not release the nature of the relationship between her and the man.