The Friday evening police call that would end with a white officer fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, sparking heated protests and pained conversations across Madison, started with a report of a man on Williamson Street “yelling and jumping in front of cars.”
Police radio transmissions from Friday night, archived and later posted online, start with dispatchers sending officers to 1125 Williamson St.
With police on the way, a dispatcher tells the officers that the man is named Tony Robinson, and that callers have said he hit and tried to strangle someone inside the Williamson Street house.
Less than 20 seconds after an officer radios that he is going into an upstairs apartment, there is a call for shots fired.
In those seconds, police say Robinson, 19, of Madison, and Officer Matt Kenny, 45, who has been with the department more than 12 years, struggled inside the apartment before Kenny fatally shot Robinson. Kenny was injured in the altercation, police said.
Authorities Saturday declined to answer many questions about what happened between Kenny and Robinson. Madison police said the release of that information will be up to the state Division of Criminal Investigation, which is leading the inquiry into the shooting as part of a state law requiring outside investigation of all officer-involved deaths.
Chief Mike Koval on Saturday confirmed reports from protesters and Robinson’s family members that the teen was unarmed when he was killed, and acknowledged that fact has driven much of the outcry following the shooting.
“He was unarmed,” Koval said, “and that’s going to make this all the more complicated … for the public to accept, to understand and to wait patiently for what other circumstances, if any, were there … such that deadly force had to be used.”
Attorney General Brad Schimel, who oversees the Division of Criminal Investigation, declined to provide more information about what led to the shooting.
“To preserve the integrity of our investigation, it is our practice not to share details while that investigation is in process,” Schimel said in a statement. “DOJ will produce a report for release to the public upon its completion.”
“We are resolved that the result of that investigation will be one in which the public can have confidence.”
The dispatcher relaying information to officers Friday night told them Robinson’s name and age, and gave them a description of the clothing he was wearing, according to the transmissions posted online.
The dispatcher tells officers the person who called authorities isn’t still at the apartment, but says, “Apparently Tony hit one of his friends.”
“No weapons seen,” the dispatcher adds.
Later, he says the caller told them Robinson “tried to strangle” someone inside 1125 Williamson St.
About two and a half minutes after the first call, an officer radios that he is going into the apartment.
The call for shots fired comes 18 seconds later and is soon followed by requests for an ambulance, a person saying efforts at CPR have started and a request for police to block off the street.
Jim Palmer, president of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said Kenny was taken to a hospital as a precaution for injuries he sustained in the altercation, which is also standard procedure in shooting investigations.
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Koval declined to say Saturday if Kenny used weapons such as a baton or Taser during the struggle with Robinson, again citing the state investigation. Protesters and family members have asked why the officer didn’t use less-lethal force because the teen was unarmed.
The exact circumstances of every encounter dictate what level of force is appropriate for the officer to use, Koval said.
“We have to see those unique facts, as DCI will do,” Koval said. “Whether it was excessive or not will be a corollary, obviously, of their investigation, which is why I can’t comment.”
12 years on force
Kenny has been a Madison police officer since 2002.
In 2007, Kenny shot and killed a 48-year-old man on Madison’s Southeast Side after the man pointed what turned out to be a replica handgun at Kenny. An investigation cleared Kenny of wrongdoing in the shooting, which authorities determined was a case of “suicide by cop.”
When a judge struck down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage last June, a photo of Kenny and two other Madison police officers delivering cake to couples marrying on the steps of the City County Building went viral.
After Friday’s shooting, Koval said, Kenny was paired with a fellow officer to provide support. Palmer said staff from the WPPA also responded to the shooting Friday night to provide emotional and legal help to Kenny through the investigation.
‘19 is too young’
Near the end of his press conference Saturday, Koval was asked about the comparison many have made between the case and that of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose shooting by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer sparked massive protests, some of which ended in riots.
Koval said he could not deny the important similarities between the cases: Namely, that both involve the killing of unarmed people of color by police.
But Koval also pointed to a host of differences he sees between his department and those in Ferguson and elsewhere.
Madison police have recruited a diverse group of officers who come to the department with comparatively high education levels and go through rigorous training that exceeds state standards, he said. While many departments have only recently looked into training officers to recognize unconscious racial bias, Koval said, his officers have been getting that instruction for six years.
Though he asked that people refrain from judging the shooting until the investigation is complete, Koval said he understood why community and family members were shocked and angered by Robinson’s death.
“To his family and to his friends and to this community, that is a loss,” Koval said. “Nineteen years old is too young.”
As demonstrators take to the streets to protest the Robinson shooting, Koval said his officers will work to protect their rights to free speech and assembly. He also asked that demonstrators respect calls from Robinson’s family for peaceful protests.
In the meantime, Koval said, the department must be committed to engaging with the public “now more than ever.”
“We do not want to be missing in action,” he said. “The most critical times (are) when police have to stand up and take those questions and take that concern to heart.
“Our trust variable is in a volatile place, and we’re going to have to work through that together to get some measure of healing and reconciliation,” he said.