The police officer from Madison, Wisconsin, who shot and killed Tony Robinson, an unarmed black 19-year-old, in March, will not face charges, it was announced this afternoon by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. The news about officer Matt Kenny, who is white, follows a two-month-long inquiry conducted by the state Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation, in keeping with a 2014 Wisconsin law that calls for all officer-involved deaths to be looked at by outside investigators. (Update, 6:21 p.m.: Wisconsin law also requires that the investigators' report be released. Here it is.)
"I conclude that this tragic and unfortunate death was the result of a lawful use of deadly police force and that no charges should be brought against Officer Kenny in the death of Tony Robinson Jr.," Ozanne told reporters.
"My decision will not bring Tony Robinson Jr. back," he added. "My decision will not end the racial disparities that exist in the justice system, in our justice system. My decision is not based on emotion. Rather, this decision is based on the facts as they have been investigated and reported to me.”
Robinson was shot in the head, torso, and upper body at around 6:30 p.m. on March 6th, after Kenny, responding to reports of someone acting erratically, entered the apartment house where Robinson was living with two friends. Ozanne said today that Kenny shot Robinson after Robinson punched him and knocked him down.
After the DA’s announcement, Chief Michael Koval of the Madison Police Department issued a rather extraordinary statement on his official blog, imploring city residents to be peaceful as they processed the news, but acknowledging that “feelings of despair and helplessness” that have taken root in Madison’s poorest communities are, in part, the result of law enforcement policy. “Schools are not meeting the needs of all of our students,” Chief Koval wrote. “Joblessness and unskilled labor are punctuated with double digit deficits for people of color. Ever-prevalent gun violence has become the "new" normal plaguing our City and the news headlines. And I am not going to absolve law enforcement for whatever role we have played in being complicit in the calculus of racial disparities.”
He also noted that “months prior to the outset of this tragic event, an initiative was well underway… seeking more thoughtful, long-term approaches to police and citizen encounters,” and that representatives from the Madison Police Department had been meeting with various local to explore “ways in which police can be more effective in promoting trust while also examining systems that may contribute to racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”
Robinson was not the first person Kenny killed on the job; he shot and killed a man in possession of a pellet gun in 2007, but the incident—which was set in motion when the man called 911 on himself—was ruled “suicide by cop.” Kenny was later cleared of wrongdoing and awarded a medal of valor.
Robinson’s death, which came about a month before the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina, led to days of peaceful protests in Madison. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, demonstrations are planned for this evening in response to the decision not to prosecute Kenny. Already, faith leaders have gathered in front of the house where Robinson was shot, and protesters are sitting in the street.