MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A 19-year-old black man who died after being shot by a police officer was unarmed, the Madison police chief said Saturday, assuring protesters who earlier in the day renewed the refrain of “Black Lives Matter” that his department would defend their rights to gather while imploring the community to express their anger with “responsibility and restraint.”
Tony Robinson was shot Friday night after assaulting Officer Matt Kenny, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said. Kenny was injured, Koval said, but didn’t provide details. It wasn’t clear whether Robinson, who died at a hospital, was alone in the apartment.
“He was unarmed. That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators, for the public to accept,” Koval said during a news conference. Police department spokesman Joel DeSpain said Kenny would not have been wearing a body camera.
Several dozen protesters gathered earlier Saturday outside of the Dane County Public Safety Building holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter” — a slogan adopted by activists and protesters around the nation after recent officer-involved deaths of unarmed black men — before walking toward the neighborhood where the shooting took place. Protesters also shouted the slogan Friday night.
Koval, who struck a conciliatory tone during Saturday afternoon’s news conference, said he understood the anger and distrust taking hold in the community, and said that “for those who do want to take to the street and protest,” his department would be there to “defend, facilitate, foster those first amendment rights of assembly and freedom of speech.”
He also asked protesters to follow what he said was the lead of Robinson’s family at the scene in asking for peaceful demonstrations that are “nondestructive to others” and “falls within the boundaries of tolerance for one another as we all move through a grieving process and a coping process.”
A 2014 Wisconsin law requires police departments to have outside agencies probe officer-involved deaths. State Attorney General Brad Schimel said the department will not share details of the investigation until it is finished.
“We are resolved that the result of that investigation will be one in which the public can have confidence,” he added.
Kenny has more than 12 years of experience, Koval said, and was involved in a 2007 shooting but was cleared of any wrongdoing because it was a “suicide by cop-type” situation. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation by the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation and the Dane County District Attorney’s review of that investigation.
The shooting came days after the U.S. Justice Department cleared Darren Wilson, the white former Ferguson, Missouri, officer who shot Michael Brown, of federal civil rights charges in the death of the 18-year-old, who was black and unarmed. A second report found patterns of racial profiling, bigotry and profit-driven law enforcement and court practices in the St. Louis suburb.
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.
Neighbors said Robinson’s apartment is in a two-story gray house on the block of Williamson Street, known to many as Willy Street. Many walked to nearby restaurants and cafés on Saturday.
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 was assaulted by Robinson, and then fired at him; Koval couldn’t say how many shots were fired because it is part of the investigation.
Grant Zimmerman, a neighbor of Robinson’s, said Robinson would run between his apartment and his roommate’s mother’s house across the street “all the time, even in the middle of traffic.”
“My son has never been a violent person. And to die in such a violent, violent way, it baffles me,” said Andrea Irwin, who told WKOW-TV on Friday night she is Robinson’s mother.
Robinson, a 2014 graduate of Sun Prairie High School, was well-liked, according to Olga Ennis, a neighbor and family friend. “He was a beautiful kid,” Ennis said. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
She said many in the community don’t trust police officers. “We’re afraid of the cops,” she said. “Who do you call for help now?”
Mayor Paul Soglin called the shooting “a tragedy beyond description” in a statement.
“I hope as the pain eases that something constructive will come of this,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Koval expressed his sympathy during Saturday’s news conference, saying he went to Robinson’s mother’s house overnight and spoke with Robinson’s grandparents. He said he asked if he could speak with Robinson’s mother, but that they “thought that based on the dynamics of what was occurring it would not be an appropriate time.”
He then added, “19 years old is too young.”
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