MADISON, Wis. — The 19-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a veteran white officer was unarmed, Madison’s police chief said Saturday.
Tony Robinson was shot Friday night after an altercation in which Officer Matt Kenny, 45, was knocked down by a blow to the head, Chief Mike Koval said. He added it wasn’t clear whether Robinson, who died at a hospital, was alone in the apartment where the shooting happened, which neighbors said was where Robinson lived.
“He was unarmed. That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators, for the public to accept,” Koval said.
Kenny has more than 12 years of experience and was involved in a 2007 shooting but was cleared of any wrongdoing because it was a “suicide by cop-type” situation.
Several dozen protesters gathered outside the Dane County Public Safety Building on Saturday before starting to walk toward the scene of the shooting, holding signs that read, “Black Lives Matter” — a slogan adopted by activists and protesters around the nation after recent officer-involved deaths of unarmed black men. Protesters also shouted the slogan Friday night after the shooting.
“My son has never been a violent person. And to die in such a violent, violent way, it baffles me,” said Andrea Irwin, who told WKOW-TV on Friday night she is Robinson’s mother.
Koval said he understood the anger and distrust taking hold in the community following Robinson’s shooting, and said that “for those who do want to take to the street and protest,” his department would be there to “defend, facilitate, foster those first amendment rights of assembly and freedom of speech.” He added that he would ask protesters to follow what he said was the lead of Robinson’s family and “do so with a sense of responsibility and restraint.”
Kenny is on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation by the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation and the Dane County District Attorney’s decision on whether to press charges, Koval said.
A 2014 Wisconsin law requires police departments to have outside agencies probe officer-involved deaths. State Attorney General Brad Schimel said the department will not share details of the investigation until it is finished.
“We are resolved that the result of that investigation will be one in which the public can have confidence,” he added.
The shooting came days after the U.S. Justice Department cleared Darren Wilson, the white former Ferguson, Missouri, officer who shot Michael Brown, of federal civil rights charges in the death of the 18-year-old, who was black and unarmed. A second report found patterns of racial profiling, bigotry and profit-driven law enforcement and court practices in the St. Louis suburb.
Madison, about 80 miles west of Milwaukee, is the state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus. About 7 percent of the city’s 243,000 residents are black.
Koval said police were called about 6:30 p.m. Friday because Robinson was jumping into traffic. A second call to police said the man was “responsible for a battery,” Koval said.
Kenny went to an apartment and forced his way inside after hearing a disturbance. Koval said the officer was assaulted by Robinson, and then fired at him. Koval said Saturday afternoon that he couldn’t say how many shots were fired because it is part of the investigation.
Neighbors said Robinson’s apartment is in a two-story gray house on the block of Williamson Street, known to many as Willy Street. Many walked to nearby restaurants and cafés on Saturday.
Grant Zimmerman said Robinson would run between his apartment and his roommate’s mother’s house across the street: “He runs back and forth across the street all the time, even in the middle of traffic.”
Olga Ennis, a neighbor and family friend, said Robinson was well-liked. Robinson graduated in 2014 from Sun Prairie High School, Superintendent Tim Culver said in a statement.
“He was a beautiful kid,” Ennis said. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
She said many in the community don’t trust police officers. “We’re afraid of the cops,” she said. “Who do you call for help now?”
Mayor Paul Soglin called the shooting “a tragedy beyond description” in a statement.
“I hope as the pain eases that something constructive will come of this,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Sharon Irwin, who told the newspaper Friday night she was Robinson’s grandmother, urged protesters to be peaceful. “I think you need to rise up but I don’t want violence,” she said.