The white officer who shot dead biracial 19 year-old Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin will not face criminal charges it was announced on Tuesday, more than 10 weeks since the teenager’s death.
Following an inquiry by Wisconsin’s state division of criminal investigation [DCI], the Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne declined to prosecute Madison police officer Matt Kenny, who responded to a number of 911 calls on6 March reporting Robinson was acting erratically and had allegedly assaulted at least one person in the street outside his shared apartment.
At a packed press conference, Ozanne delivered a detailed description of Kenny’s fatal encounter with Robinson, drawing from the officer’s account and dashcam footage from Kenny’s patrol car.
It was revealed for the first time that Kenny was aware Robinson was believed to be intoxicated as he approached the upstairs apartment and entered, but still the officer did not wait for backup. The officer believed a second person was inside the apartment after hearing “incoherent yelling and screaming”.
According to the officer’s account, Kenny “got to within a few steps” of the top of the stairs leading to the apartment doorway, and was punched by Robinson in the head. The officer then fell backwards, and with Robinson still “swinging at him” fired at the teenager fearing he would fall back and lose consciousness, leaving his firearm vulnerable to theft.
Kenny fired seven shots from close range, all of which hit the unarmed teenager. Ozanne said three separate bursts of fire occurred. Three shots were fired, followed by another three, and then a single shot.
“I conclude that this tragic and unfortunate event was the result of a lawful use of deadly police force and that no charges should be brought against Officer Kenny for the death of Tony Robinson,” Ozanne told reporters. He repeatedly mopped sweat from his brow throughout the press conference.
Kenny forced entry to the apartment and fired a fatal volley of bullets striking Robinson in the head, the right arm and the torso. Robinson was unarmed. Sources have told the Guardian the teenager was alone in the apartment and had ingested a large quantity of hallucinogenic mushrooms before the incident. One of the 911 calls on the evening was made by a friend requesting help, sources have said. Police say Robinson had assaulted Kenny and knocked the officer off balance.
Madison police and the Wisconsin state department of justice have provided scant details of the incident since then. Ozanne was handed the findings of the DCI investigation in early April.
“On March 6, 2015 a young man lost his life far too soon,” Ozanne told said. “Now whether we are policing, teaching or parenting, when we use violence to control, we do so at a tremendous cost to the person to our community and ultimately to our humanity.”
“Although Tony Robinson was over 6ft tall and he was just past the age of majority, he was still a young man,” the district attorney said.
Addressing Robinson’s mother, Andrea, Ozanne said he was “so very sorry” for her loss.
Robinson’s family, who have repeatedly expressed their fear that the investigation would not return an indictment, called for calm on Monday, whilst criticising Ozanne for notifying them of the Tuesday announcement on Mother’s Day.
“My sister [Robinson’s mother Andrea Irwin] is pretty much inconsolable right now,” Turin Carter, Robinson’s uncle told the Guardian on Monday. “It’s very upsetting that that sort of thing would be done on such a meaningful day.”
Ozanne said he would be meeting with Robinson’s family immediately after the press conference.
In concluding remarks he anticipated protests to follow the decision, but warned: “True and lasting change does not come from violence but from exercising our voices and our votes.”
A march to the Wisconsin state capitol is planned for later on Tuesday, where members of Robinson’s family are expected to speak. Robinson’s death sparked weeks of protests in the city. In the days after his death, hundreds of school children from the city left their classes and staged a large occupation in the state capitol building..
The decision not to prosecute officer Kenny follows similar rulings in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, where the officers responsible for the deaths of unarmed black men were not charged.
Kenny has remained silent since Robinson’s death, despite supportive public statements from his family members and Madison police chief Mike Koval. Koval has also acknowledged the similarities in the Robinson case to that of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Robinson’s death was not the first fatal incident officer Kenny was involved in. In 2007 Kenny shot dead 48 year-old Ronald Brandon who waved a pellet gun at Kenny after calling 911. Brandon’s wife said he was drunk at the time. Kenny was cleared of any wrongdoing and awarded a medal of valor by the department. The incident was branded a “suicide by cop”.
During his tenure as District Attorney, which began in 2010, Ismael Ozanne has investigated seven fatal shootings by police, involving 13 officers. Ozanne has not brought charges in any of these cases, according to local news.
Under Wisconsin state legislation enacted in April 2014 all fatal incidents at the hands of police must be investigated by the DCI, an outside agency run by the Wisconsin department of justice. The Guardian has revealed that one of the senior DCI investigators involved in the Robinson case was previously a member of the Madison police force.
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