Madison Officer Who Shot Tony Robinson Cleared Of Wrongdoing, Will Return To Active Duty

CREDIT: (Madison Police Department/Wisconsin Department of Corrections via AP)

Officer Matt Kenny, left, and shooting victim Tony Robinson.

MADISON, WISCONSIN — This week, Madison Police announced they will not discipline the officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson in the stairwell of his apartment in early March.

Police Chief Mike Koval told reporters Wednesday afternoon that Officer Matt Kenny has been exonerated, after an internal investigation found he followed proper procedure when he used “deadly force” against the teenager.

“Matt has withstood scrutiny and is entitled to pursue his passion and his passion is to be a police officer serving the Madison community,” said Koval. “I am not going to strong-arm someone to resign, retire or relocate, particularly when there has been no fault found. He is his own master of his own universe.”

But because of what he called “the notoriety of this particular incident,” Chief Koval described what he called the “Officer Kenny Transitional Plan.”

“He’ll meet with our trauma staff, a psychiatrist who specializes in officer-involved shootings, our command staff, and our training staff,” he said. “The hopeful outcome of that is we provide the time and space to decide how we may, over time, prepare his return as a full-fledged police officer.” But for now, Kenny will be assigned to desk work, or “logistics,” including training other officers.

Many civil rights and racial justice groups blasted the exoneration, noting that six Madison residents have been killed by police since 2012, but the department has made almost no changes to prevent future incidents.

“Too many killings have taken place, whether or not police officers violated the law or departmental policy,” said Chris Ahmuty, the executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Either the Madison Police Department’s policies or its internal investigations are deficient. The recurring violence carried out by the Madison Police Department will continue, unless the Madison Police Department finds better ways to handle critical incidents.”

In the wake of Robinson’s death, the Madison City Council created a committee of community members to review police practices and suggest reforms. The committee, whose members were entirely appointed by the Mayor, will release their first report in July of 2016. Some local activists, including Matthew Braunginn with the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, are frustrated that the process has no teeth.

“It’s largely void of power,” he told ThinkProgress. “It’ll just put forth recommendations. It’s a typical maneuver of city who are in trouble. We’re going to have people on it, but we feel it’s largely symbolic and nothing much is going to come of it. Any changes are going to be very moderate.”

The Young, Gifted and Black Coalition is continuing its call for the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Organization of American States Commission on Human Rights to investigate both Robinson’s death and “the persistent and systemic racial disparities and inequities in the greater Madison area.”

The Coalition notes in particular that Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate for black men in the country. Statewide, African Americans are six times more likely to be arrested than people of other races, and black residents of Madison’s Dane County were found to be more than 97 times more likely to go to jail for a drug crime than a white resident.

As Robinson’s family members explore other means of bringing Officer Kenny to justice, including a civil lawsuit, they are also organizing events to honor Tony’s memory. This Saturday, they plan to shut down part of Williamson Street, where the shooting occurred, for a block party and community call to action.

“It will be 3 months since he was murdered,” said the invitation from his mother Sharon Irwin. “At 6:40pm we will release balloons into the air, the moment our boy died. JUSTICE FOR TONY!!!”