Wisconsin man killed by officer was not armed, police say
MADISON, WI — Nineteen-year-old Tony Robinson was not armed when a Madison, Wisconsin, police officer fatally shot him, Police Chief Mike Koval said Saturday.
Looking ahead to Saturday night, the chief called for calm. Protesters in this university town converged Friday night on City Hall, chanting “Black lives matter.”
The chief said he understands the public’s frustration — “I get that,” he said several times — and is striving to be transparent.
“We have to be clear about this,” Koval said. “He was unarmed. That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators, the public, to accept to understand … why deadly force had to be used.”
Robinson was shot after allegedly assaulting an officer responding to a reported disturbance at a Madison residence Friday evening, Koval said.
Koval acknowledged the street protests are reminiscent of those that followed the deaths of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, after confrontations with police.
Robinson was of mixed race and the officer identified as shooting him, 12-year department veteran Matt Kenny, is white.
Kenny fatally shot a man on duty in 2007 but was exonerated of any wrongdoing and even received a commendation, Koval said. The chief said the 2007 incident was “concluded to be a suicide by cop predilection. …”
Koval said he visited the home of Robinson’s mother late Friday night and met Robinson’s grandparents outside the house.
They talked and prayed, the chief said, but they advised him to put off visiting Robinson’s mother “based on the dynamics” of the situation.
“I couldn’t even begin to get my hands around the enormity of the loss and the tragic consequences,” Koval said. “Nineteen years old is too young.”
Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, told CNN affiliate WKOW that she didn’t understand what happened. “My son has never been a violent person, never,” she said. “To die in such a violent way baffles me.”
Irwin said Robinson served as a father figure to her other children.
“He was our caretaker and so gentle,” she said.
Chief: Young man ‘assaulted my officer’
The incident started when authorities got a call that a man suspected in a recent incident had gone to an apartment, Koval said.
Shortly before that call, another one had come in, saying the same person was “jumping in and out of traffic, dodging cars,” according to the police chief.
When Kenny, the responding officer went to the apartment, he heard some commotion and forced his way in, he said.
“Once inside the home the subject involved in this incident — the same one allegedly out in traffic and that had battered someone — assaulted my officer,” Koval said.
After that, according to the chief, “The officer did draw his revolver and subsequently shot the subject.”
Backup officers and others at the scene performed CPR on the young man, who later died at the hospital.
Kenny suffered a blow to the head, but is being treated and will be released, Koval said. Kenny has been placed on administrative leave with pay.
Koval said he’s not sure what Robinson was doing at the house in the first place.
“His relationship to the home is unclear to me, although there were certainly familiar acquaintances. This was not a random place. He had hung out.”
Mayor: Incident ‘an enormous tragedy’
In a statement Saturday, state Attorney General Brad Schimel said he “can only imagine the heartbreak” of Robinson’s parents and added he’s “concerned for the officer … who, I imagine, is experiencing great trauma as well.”
“They are all in my thoughts and prayers,” Schimel said.
Under Wisconsin law, officer-involved shootings are investigated by an outside agency, in this case the Division of Criminal Investigation. Once DCI completes the investigation, the report will go to the local district attorney, Koval said.
Some are demanding answers sooner rather than later.
On Friday night, dozens of demonstrators came out to the area around the apartment, which police had blocked off. A group also moved toward City Hall before dispersing early Saturday.
“Who do we trust?” some called out, prompting the response, “No one!”
And in another refrain, they chanted, “Black lives matter.”
The protesters’ sentiments were echoed online, where some adopted the #WillyStreet hashtag in reference to Williamson Street, where the shooting happened.
“Praying for Madison tonight,” wrote one activist. “Stand up, sit in, walk out – until u get answers. And until there are no more hashtag eulogies.”
Mayor Paul Soglin spoke to the raw feelings, calling what happened “an enormous tragedy.”
“We’ve got a family that’s really hurting,” Soglin said, according to WKOW. “And we’ve got a city and neighborhood that’s feeling pretty well hurt itself.”
“In light of so much things that have happened not just across the country, but in our own community, it’s understandable that the reaction at the scene and of some of our citizens is extremely volatile, emotional and upsetting,” the police chief told CNN affiliate WKOW-TV.
“And we understand that. That’s absolutely appropriate under these circumstances. We would urge, obviously, that everyone exercise restraint.”
CNN’s Faith Karami and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.
By Ralph Ellis, Joe Sutton, and Greg Botelho