MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A white Wisconsin police officer was exonerated Wednesday by an internal investigation into his fatal shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old biracial man, a move that follows prosecutors declining to file charges and clears the way for him to go back to work.
The Madison Police Department issued a summary of its finding that Officer Matt Kenny did not violate its deadly force policies in the March 6 shooting death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson. The conclusion of the internal decision comes one month after Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne decided not to charge Kenny in the case.
The exoneration clears the way for Kenny, a 12-year veteran of the department who had been on paid leave since the shooting, to return to work.
“He’s looking forward to working to getting back and doing the job he loves,” said Kenny’s attorney Jim Palmer, who is also executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. Palmer said he spoke with Kenny, who was “pleased” with the decision.
Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said Kenny will receive psychiatric counseling through the department and be eased back into work by first assisting with training for delivering first aid and the mounted horse patrol.
There is no timeline for when Kenny will resume his previous work as a street patrol officer, Koval said at a news conference. Koval said it’s not in the best interests of Kenny, officers who back him up, or the community to rush his return to the street. But Koval stressed that 46-year-old Kenny will not be forced to retire, resign or accept a desk position against his will.
“To those who say I should relocate him, I really don’t have a branch office in Butte, Montana, like the FBI,” Koval said. “Nor would I banish him to such. He is a viable member of the Madison Police Department.”
Threats have been made against both Kenny and the Robinson family. And while Kenny’s safety is a concern, his attorney said “we anticipate he will be able to successfully be able to return to patrol.”
A summary of the investigation does not reveal any details about how the Police Department reached its conclusion, but Koval said it showed no policies were violated.
“If everybody’s concerned about the appropriateness of the use of deadly force, I think that question has now been unequivocally answered in two different reviewing capacities,” Koval said.
Kenny was also involved in a 2007 fatal shooting in which he was also cleared of any wrongdoing.
Kenny is reviewing the internal investigation report, as is allowed under the law, and will allow the Police Department to release it as early as Thursday, Palmer said. Kenny has not spoken publicly since the shooting.
Calls to Robinson’s mother on her home phone and cellphone, seeking comment on the decision, rang unanswered. Robinson’s family members have questioned the shooting, saying he was not a threat to the officer when he was shot. They have also questioned the investigation.
A message left with the family’s attorney Jon Lovey was not immediately returned.
Chris Ahmuty, the executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said the police department’s policies or investigations are deficient. Ahmuty, citing the fact that four other people have been shot and killed by Madison police since 2012, called for an investigation of how Madison police reviews such incidents to determine if its process is credible.
Kenny shot and killed Robinson in an apartment house stairwell after Robinson, who was high on hallucinogenic mushrooms and had accosted others that night, struck the officer in the head.
Kenny had responded to 911 calls and found the apartment house door open. He heard what he believed to be a disturbance in the upstairs apartment and thought someone was being attacked, he told investigators.
He drew his firearm and began to climb the stairs. He was near the top when he announced himself as a police officer. Robinson appeared and punched him in the head, he said.
Kenny said he was worried Robinson would knock him down the stairs, take his gun, shoot him and kill whoever was in the apartment. Kenny told an investigator he couldn’t use nonlethal force because of “space and time considerations.”
Protests after the shooting, and Ozanne’s decision not to criminally charge Kenny, have all been peaceful, unlike some of the demonstrations that followed the high-profile deaths of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore in the past year.
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