On the evening Tony Robinson, Jr. was shot and killed by a Madison, Wisconsin police officer, his friends and a host of witnesses dialed 911 and told dispatchers that Robinson was acting erratically and violently. Others said they saw him jumping in and out of traffic, into a moving car and that he’d physically attacked a couple of strangers and even his friends. Robinson was “tweaking” one friend said. Toxicology reports would later show the young man had psychedelic mushrooms, marijuana, and Xanax in his system the day he died.
In those calls and later during interviews with police investigators, witnesses described the harrowing last hours of Robinson’s life, a scatter of tragic puzzle pieces Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne cited in clearing officer Matt Kenny in Robinson’s death.
“I conclude that this tragic and unfortunate death was a result of a lawful use of police force and that no charges should be brought against officer Matt Kenny in the death of Tony Robinson, Jr.,” Ozanne said during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
The prosecutor said that video evidence showed officer Kenny walking up to the apartment, entering through an open door and then within 20 seconds stumbling back through the threshold. Robinson had attacked Kenny as soon as he walked in the door, punching him in the head. Ozanne said that Kenny feared that he’d be knocked out and that Robinson would take his weapon and kill Kenny and perhaps those inside the apartment.
Ozane said Kenny, stumbling back, fired off a string of shots, seven in all.
“Three shots followed by three shots followed by one shot,” Ozanne said Kenny fired. ”All seven shots hit Tony Robinson Jr. at close range … all bullets hit Robinson from front to back.”
The decision not to charge the officer comes after months of protests in Madison and across the country as protesters have demanded greater accountability in cases in which police kill unarmed African-Americans, particularly young black men. Robinson’s death was just one in a string of recent killings of young black men across the country. From New York to Cleveland, Baltimore to Ferguson, Missouri, and in dozens of smaller cities spread from east to west, countless thousands have marched and rallied calling for an end to police violence and an uplifting of black lives.
Before announcing his decision Ozanne detailed his own bi-racial background, spoke of his black mother who grew up in Mississippi and became the youngest member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He said he understands the “pain of unjustified profiling” and is the only district attorney of color in the state of Wisconsin and the first in Dane County.
He said this matter to charge or not charge Kenny was not about the vestiges of ongoing prejudice or emotion.
“In this matter my role is to weigh the facts and determine if officer Kenny should be criminally charged,” he said. “But I am cognizant of the very real racial disparities that exist in this county.”
Andrea Irvin, Robinson’s mother, said she was hurt but not shocked by Ozanne’s decision not to charge the man who killed her son.
“It’s my son, I’m in pain,” Irvin told reporters after the news of Ozanne’s decision broke. “That’s pretty much all I’m going to be in: pain. I’m not surprised, I was never surprised with this outcome.”
“They could have done a lot and what they didn’t do was give my son any respect and they didn’t do a thorough full investigation. That’s what they didn’t do,” Irvin said. “What they did do was take everything they could possibly from me and to make sure that … this was going to be the outcome and that’s how this has been played.”
Sharon Irvin, Robinson’s grandmother, stood before a group of reporters and said that few people scrutinizing her grandson know him or the young man he was. “He’s been slandered from the beginning and was set up,” she said. “I want to say this is politics and not justice.”
She wore one of Robinson’s old sweaters, she said, because it’s all that she has left to warm her since his death.
John Lovey, an attorney and spokesman for Robinson’s family, said a review of the district attorney’s final report raises more questions than answers. Lovey said the officer’s story of what happened the night of the killing has changed over time and that he’d gleaned from the report that the officer apparently had been told not to go into the apartment before the shooting. Msnbc has not seen the report and could not independently confirm those details.
It’s not the first time Kenny has been scrutinized for use of force. In 2007, Kenny fatally shot another suspect and was later cleared of any wrongdoing.
Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, questioned the district attorney’s decision on Tuesday.
The ACLU “regrets Ozanne’s decision because it leaves a cloud of uncertainty over the circumstances of and the responsibility for Tony Robinson’s death,” Ahmuty said.
“If Officer Kenny did not violate the law, then is anyone legally responsible for Mr. Robinson’s death?” he asked. “Does the criminal law protect individuals like Mr. Robinson from deadly force exercised by police officers? Are police officers above the law?”