Unanswered questions linger
In the two months since incident, key details have been kept from public
By: Nico Savidge, Wisconsin State Journal: May 12th, 2015
More than nine weeks after a Madison police officer fatally shot 19-year-old Tony Robinson inside a Williamson Street apartment home, much of what led up to the controversial shooting has remained a mystery to the public.
But with District Attorney Ismael Ozanne set to announce Tuesday whether Officer Matt Kenny will face criminal charges for the March 6 shooting, a far fuller picture of the encounter between Kenny and Robinson could soon emerge.
Authorities have so far released only a limited outline of what happened on the night of March 6, saying Robinson punched Kenny in the head, knocking him off balance, before he was shot. Kenny had been called to the home for reports that Robinson was running in traffic and had battered two people on Williamson Street, according to police.
Beyond that, Madison police and the state Division of Criminal Investigation, which led the inquiry into the shooting, have declined to provide any more information about the incident.
Without those full details, experts in law and policing have said it’s impossible to say if Kenny will or should face criminal charges for shooting Robinson.
As Madison awaits Ozanne’s decision, these are some of the most important unanswered questions.
Q. Before the shooting, did Kenny know that Robinson had used drugs?
Robinson’s friends and relatives have said the teen took hallucinogenic mushrooms and was acting erratically on the day he was shot. Relatives also say Javier Limon, a friend of Robinson’s who lived at the home where he was killed and who called 911 hoping to get help for Robinson, had told an operator that the teen had used mushrooms.
They say knowing about Robinson’s mental state should have led Kenny to approach the situation differently, but it’s unclear if Kenny ever got that information.
Audio of police radio transmissions from before and after the shooting contains no references to Robinson’s alleged drug use; that audio was posted by an unofficial source, however, and it’s unclear if it has been edited. Police can also receive information from dispatch through laptops in their squad cars, but it’s unknown what Kenny might have learned from his computer.
Q. Why did Kenny enter the house?
Critics of the shooting have questioned whether Kenny was right to go inside the home, saying his decision may have escalated the situation and that Kenny should have waited for other officers who were on their way to the house.
Police have said Kenny entered a side door to 1125 Williamson St. after hearing a disturbance inside, but they have not specified what Kenny heard.
That decision will be one aspect of the incident MPD investigators will scrutinize as part of an internal review to see if Kenny violated department policies. But UW-Madison law professor Cecelia Klingele said the decision won’t factor into Ozanne’s review of the shooting, as it speaks to a possible violation of police policy, not criminal law.
Q. Where and how was Kenny assaulted?
The side door through which Kenny entered the home opens onto a narrow stairway leading to the upstairs apartment where Limon lived. Robinson’s friends have said the teen was shot in that stairway. Authorities have not said if the incident occurred entirely on the steps, however, so it’s unclear if Kenny ever made it to the upstairs apartment.
Officials also have not provided details of how Robinson’s alleged assault on Kenny unfolded — how many times Kenny was struck, if he was knocked to the floor or if he fell down the stairs.
Jim Palmer, Kenny’s attorney and the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said last week that Kenny was diagnosed with a concussion after the shooting.
Q. Could Kenny have used other kinds of force?
Robinson’s relatives and others have also asked if Kenny could have handled the altercation without resorting to deadly force, such as by using a Taser or another weapon. It’s unclear whether Kenny considered or tried to use any of those options, or if they would have been effective in the tight confines of the apartment stairway.
Q. What was happening when the shots were fired?
Perhaps the most important unanswered question is one the public knows very little about. Authorities have not given any indication of how the men were positioned when Kenny fired — if one was standing over the other, or if one was higher up on the apartment steps.
Robinson family spokesman Jerome Flowers said the teen’s relatives believe he was “in a non-threatening position” when he was shot. Palmer said that was not the case, but declined to get into specifics.
Q. Where was Robinson shot?
The Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office has said Robinson was shot in the head, arm and torso.The Robinson family says its independent autopsy found a bullet’s exit wound through the teen’s chest.
Though they were not able to confirm that the bullet entered through Robinson’s back, Flowers said they believe that exit wound indicates he was shot from behind. Palmer said he is confident forensic evidence will show Robinson was not shot in the back.
Asked last week whether Robinson was shot in the chest or back, Barry Irmen, director of operations for the medical examiner’s office, declined to say.