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The Rev. Everett Mitchell speaks to Tony Robinson supporters during a march held Tuesday afternoon following Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne's decision.
Jerome Flowers was left with more questions than answers after Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced Tuesday that he would not charge Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny in the shooting death of Tony Robinson.
“When he announced his decision, I thought, ‘Is that your final answer?’” said Flowers, who is a spokesman for the Robinson family.
Ozanne, who is the first African-American district attorney in Wisconsin, began his speech with an apology to Robinson’s family, emphasizing his own experience as “a person of color from a biracial marriage” and “a man who understands the pain of unjustifiable profiling.”
“I am the son of a black woman who still worries about my safety from the bias of privilege and violence that accompanies it,” he said.
Before revealing his conclusion, Ozanne stressed that he understood the gravity of such decisions and the long troubling history with racial disparities in both the United States and Dane County.
Ozanne’s lengthy preamble, however sincere, did little to soften the blow when he announced his decision not to charge Kenny – a move that some saw as a betrayal of the black community and an affirmation of a system that is at least in part to blame for the teen’s death.
Flowers says Ozanne’s background is “irrelevant.” And he says Robinson’s family also has questions – questions that they hope will be answered as they consider their next steps in the legal process.
Attorney Jon Loevy, of the Chicago-based firm Loevy & Loevy, is representing the Robinson family. At the family’s news conference Tuesday, Loevy criticized Kenny’s decision to enter the house alone and to fire a final shot from outside the house. He said the officer’s story has changed over the weeks since the shooting.
“That makes no sense why the police officer would be shooting from outside the building into the building, killing an unarmed young man,” Loevy said. “Apparently, the police officer suffered some kind of amnesia and didn’t remember shooting from outside the building.”
The Robinson family is continuing its investigation into the shooting, and Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, has said she plans to file a lawsuit against the city.
The family openly criticized Ozanne’s decision. “This isn’t justice – this is politics,” said Robinson’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin, in an interview after Ozanne’s news conference. She said the decision robbed her family of due process and the opportunity to have a jury decide Kenny’s fate.
“I want the system to change,” she said.
Family members later joined hundreds of protesters and Madison area faith leaders who gathered on Williamson Street, near the house where Robinson was killed on March 6.
A peaceful, powerful march departed from the scene of the shooting Tuesday afternoon after the Robinson family’s press conference and made its way to the state Capitol, stopping briefly in front of the Dane County Public Safety building, where Ozanne had announced his decision hours earlier.
The sun broke through the clouds for the first time that afternoon just as the Rev. Everett Mitchell led the group in prayer.
“We will not be stopped and we will not be compromised because we will continue to push,” he said.
In determining whether Kenny committed a crime, Ozanne said he held himself “to the reasonable doubt standard. In other words, what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He detailed the evidence he reviewed in the case, including three 911 calls made by different people in the minutes before the shooting. Toxicology reports confirmed that Robinson had been on marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and Xanax. Ozanne also described physical evidence from the scene, including damage to a stairway wall where Robinson allegedly attacked Kenny.
Kenny told investigators he was dispatched to the apartment, believing that someone might be under assault. He examined a driveway, before entering the home. He began to go up the stairs to the second-story apartment when Robinson allegedly attacked him, hitting him on the side of his face with a closed fist. The officer told investigators Robinson continued “to aggress towards him, swinging at him.”
Ozanne said Kenny “was afraid he would be struck again and lose consciousness or fall backwards and hit his head and that his firearm would be taken from him” and used on him or another person in the home.
Kenny shot Robinson seven times at close range within three seconds. “I believe it is reasonable to conclude all shots had to have been fired near the bottom on the stairs,” Ozanne said.
Ozanne ended the press conference with a plea for peace. “I’m concerned that recent violence around our nation is giving some in our community a justification for fear, hatred and violence,” he said. “True and lasting change does not come from violence, but from exercising our voices and our votes.”
In a Tuesday evening press conference, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval was asked if he’d spoken with Kenny. The chief said he had called and left a voice mail. When asked what he said, Koval said he told Kenny about the DA’s decision. “I’m certain that an immense burden has been lifted from him as well and now he can look towards sometime in the near future resuming a career he has a passion for,” added Koval.
In a news conference Wednesday morning, Mayor Paul Soglin recognized Ozanne’s efforts and acknowledged that not everyone agrees with his decision.
“This is an outcome that many did not want. It is an outcome that many in our community support,” Soglin read from a prepared statement. “Regardless of our views, we all share a common bond of sadness over Tony’s death, and we share hope for the future of all Madisonians — knowing that we have the will and the capability to make this the best city for all.”
Demonstrations protesting Ozanne’s decision resumed early Wednesday, with members of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition gathering at the site of the shooting. A crowd of about 300 marchers, many of them youth, shared songs and poems and discussed their reaction to Ozanne’s decision prior to marching to the Dane County Courthouse.
“When I heard the decision, I cried like a baby,” coalition member Alix Shabazz said.
Shabazz told the crowd that Madison can expect “months of sustained activism.”
“This is the beginning of what people nationally have been calling Black Spring,” she said.
Coalition members echoed previous demands for a United Nations investigation into the shooting as well as community control over police that extends beyond advisory committees. “The only way we can move toward equity is to shift power from the state to the people,” coalition co-founder Brandi Grayson told a crowd of protesters Wednesday morning. “This is a struggle for power – black power.”
Several protesters chained themselves together to block both entrances of the Dane County Public Safety Building. By mid-afternoon, police began arresting people who chose to remain in the street. At press time, police had arrested about 28 people, all but one of whom complied without a struggle.