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Police dispute claim of 'violent' tactics in breaking up East Wash protest

Police dispute claim of 'violent' tactics in breaking up East Wash protest

(Content warning: The videos included in this story contain language some may find offensive.)

After activists criticized Madison police for arresting several protesters who shut down East Washington Avenue for hours Tuesday, Police Chief Mike Koval said his department respected demonstrators' First Amendment rights, and disputed claims that officers used violent tactics to make the arrests.

About 100 demonstrators rallied outside Madison East High School around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday to protest the March 6 shooting of 19-year-old Tony Robinson by a Madison police officer. They soon moved into East Washington Avenue and eventually blocked all six lanes of the major thoroughfare.

As they have with previous protests, police took a largely hands-off approach to the demonstration, diverting traffic around the protest and letting them hold the street for much of the day.

"We were very accommodating," Koval said.

But Koval said he had to weigh demonstrators' right to assemble with those of the public to use the street, and started working to reopen it around 6:30 p.m.

Several people who police said refused to leave the street were arrested and cited Tuesday evening.

Both demonstrators and police filmed the arrests, but drew different conclusions about how officers acted.

Brandi Grayson, a spokeswoman for the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, which helped organize the protest, called the arrests violent in a press release and post on the group's Facebook page.

But Koval said his officers worked "very professionally, cordially and respectfully" with demonstrators throughout the day, and said the footage of the arrests contradicted activists' claims that officers were violent.

"I saw nothing of the specious allegations that were made in (the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition's) press release," he said. "Quite frankly, if you choose to be a history revisionist and call for drama on each and every encounter with the police, your credibility diminishes."

Koval also said police allowed Tuesday's blockade of East Washington Avenue to go on for as long as they did because the protest was coordinated as part of national demonstrations against police practices. He said similar protests may not be allowed to create such lengthy disruptions.

"We cut a wide swath this time," Koval said. "That will not be the norm."

Police have said Officer Matt Kenny shot Robinson during an altercation in a Williamson Street apartment house after Robinson, who was unarmed, punched Kenny in the head and knocked him off balance. Kenny was responding to reports that Robinson had been running in traffic and had battered two people.

Family members have said Robinson took hallucinogenic mushrooms in the hours before the altercation. Robinson was black; Kenny is white.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is reviewing reports from the state Division of Criminal Investigation to determine whether any charges will be filed against Kenny.

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