MADISON, Wis. — A community group plans to gather Sunday to discuss the fatal shooting of an unarmed, black 19-year-old by a white police officer, who authorities say fired his weapon after he was assaulted.
The police chief in the college town acknowledged the anger people may be feeling, and assured demonstrators Saturday that his department would defend their rights as he implored the community to act with restraint.
Tony Robinson died Friday night after being shot in his apartment following a confrontation with Officer Matt Kenny, who had forced his way inside after hearing a disturbance while responding to a call, authorities and neighbors said.
Police Chief Mike Koval said Kenny was injured, but didn’t provide details. It wasn’t clear whether Robinson, who died at a hospital, was alone.
“He was unarmed. That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators, for the public to accept,” Koval said of Robinson. The department said Kenny would not have been wearing a body camera.
A balloon memorial had been placed near the site of the shooting on Williamson Street on Sunday morning, and organizers planned a gathering Sunday afternoon, encouraging the community to bring children and crayons for a discussion about the events of the weekend. Organizers of the protest didn’t immediately return a message.
On Saturday, several dozen protesters holding signs and chanting “Black Lives Matter” — a slogan adopted by activists and protesters nationwide after recent officer-involved deaths of unarmed blacks — marched from the police department to the neighborhood where the shooting took place.
The shooting came days after the U.S. Justice Department said it would not issue civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, the white former Ferguson, Missouri, officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, after a struggle in the street last August.
Federal officials did however find patterns of racial profiling, bigotry and profit-driven law enforcement in the St. Louis suburb, which saw spates of sometimes-violent protests in the wake of the shooting and a grand jury’s decision not to charge Wilson.
Other high-profile deaths of black suspects at the hands of police officers have prompted nationwide protests, including that of Eric Garner, who died in July after New York City officers put him in a chokehold and a video showed him repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” A Cleveland police officer in November fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had been pointing a pellet gun at a playground. A Milwaukee police officer who fatally shot Dontre Hamilton last April was found to have acted in self-defense, but was fired for ignoring department policy regarding mental illness.
Koval said Saturday that his department would “defend, facilitate, foster those First Amendment rights of assembly and freedom of speech” — echoing as a stark contrast to Ferguson, where an aggressive police response to protesters after Brown’s death drew worldwide attention.
No one answered the door Sunday morning at Robinson’s mother’s house, where Koval said he’d visited the night of the shooting and spoken with Robinson’s grandparents. Family members at community meeting Saturday read a statement prepared by the mother, Andrea Irwin, that said, “I can’t even compute what has happened.
Kenny, who had more than 12 years with the Madison department, also shot and killed a suspect in 2007, but was cleared of wrongdoing because it was a “suicide by cop-type” situation, Koval said. Kenny has been placed on administrative leave pending results of an investigation by the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation.
A 2014 Wisconsin law requires police departments to have outside agencies investigate officer-involved deaths after three high-profile incidents within a decade — including one in Madison — didn’t result in criminal charges, raising questions from the victims’ families about the integrity of investigations.
Madison, about 80 miles west of Milwaukee, is the state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus. About 7 percent of the city’s 243,000 residents are black.
Koval said police responded to a call about 6:30 p.m. Friday of a person jumping into traffic. A second call to police said the man was “responsible for a battery,” Koval said. Kenny went to an apartment and forced his way inside after hearing a disturbance. Koval said the officer fired after being assaulted by Robinson; Koval said he couldn’t say how many shots were fired because it is part of the investigation.
Wisconsin’s online courts database shows that Robinson, a 2014 graduate of Sun Prairie High School, pleaded guilty to felony armed robbery in October and was sentenced in December to three years’ probation. A police report said he was among four teenagers arrested in a home invasion in which the suspects were seen entering an apartment building with a long gun and ran with electronics and other property. A shotgun and a “facsimile” handgun were recovered, according to the report.
Koval declined to discuss Robinson’s background on Saturday.
TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press
Associated Press writer Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.