This combination made with file photos provided by the Madison, Wis. police department and Wisconsin Department of Corrections shows Madison Police officer Matt Kenny, left, and Tony Robinson, a biracial man who was killed by the officer. Kenny has been cleared of wrongdoing in an internal investigation of his fatal shooting of the unarmed 19-year-old. (Madison Police Department/Wisconsin Department of Corrections via AP)
A white Wisconsin officer who fatally shot an unarmed biracial man couldn’t have used a stun gun during the encounter under his department’s policy, according to internal police investigatory reports released Thursday.
Madison Police Chief Mike Koval had announced Wednesday that the investigation showed Officer Matt Kenny didn’t violate any department policy in the death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson, and that Kenny would be returning to duty but didn’t release any details. The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police union, released the nearly 80 pages of documents from the investigation on Thursday. The police department released the documents later in the day.
Protesters have questioned why Kenny shot Robinson when he could have used a stun gun. The investigation concluded that Kenny was carrying a stun gun and was trained in how to use it. But department policy requires officers who enter residences alone in dangerous situations to clear the buildings using a handgun or rifle so they can use deadly force if needed, the report said.
Kenny told investigators he wished he could have used non-lethal force to subdue Robinson, but he couldn’t access any other weapons because Robinson was punching him and forcing him down a narrow stairwell, the reports said. If he had been on flat ground, Kenny said, he would have backpedaled to create space, drawn his baton and hit Robinson in the knee.
“It just was no way to retreat effectively,” Kenny told a state Justice Department agent, according to the reports. “There was no way to access any other use of force option, ah, because I was falling backwards.”
Kenny shot Robinson in an apartment building stairwell on March 6. Kenny was responding to calls that Robinson was running in traffic and had assaulted two people on the street. Witnesses told police later that Robinson was high on hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The officer arrived at the apartment building and found the door had been forced open, according to the reports. He heard swearing and thought he heard the sounds of a struggle in an upstairs apartment. Fearing Robinson was attacking someone there, he began climbing the stairs with his Glock pistol drawn.
As he neared the top of the stairs, Robinson appeared and began punching him, according to the reports, which said Kenny suffered a bloody abrasion to his scalp and wrenched his knee.
Fearing that he would fall down the stairs and Robinson would take his gun and kill him, Kenny fired seven rounds, killing Robinson. Another officer who had just arrived searched the upstairs apartment but found no one, leading investigators to conclude Robinson was talking to himself.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne cleared Kenny of any criminal wrongdoing last month. The conclusion of the internal investigation clears the way for him to return to work.
Lt. Cory Nelson, who led the internal investigation, wrote in the reports that Kenny was justified in entering the apartment house alone because he thought someone was in danger. Department policy allows officers to use deadly force to defend themselves if they face imminent death or great bodily harm.
“Officer Kenny’s use of deadly force in this incident was lawful and in accordance with Madison Police Department Policy,” Nelson concluded.
The shooting spurred the city’s black community to hold days of peaceful protests. Demonstrators demanded Kenny be fired and charged with murder.
Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, said Wednesday after Koval announced that Kenny would return to duty that the department was putting a murderer back on the streets. She didn’t immediately respond to an email message Thursday. Her attorney, Jon Lovey, didn’t immediately return a voicemail message.