Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Clears City in Wisconsin Police Shooting

The city of Madison, Wis., is off the hook for the death of Tony Robinson Jr., an unarmed, black 19-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer two years ago.

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – The city of Madison, Wis., is off the hook for the death of Tony Robinson Jr., an unarmed, black 19-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer two years ago.

But Officer Matthew Kenny, who was not criminally charged or disciplined in any way for the incident, must face a jury in the federal civil rights lawsuit Robinson’s mother filed last year.

“In sum, no reasonable jury could conclude that the prospect of a biased MPD internal investigation was the moving force behind Kenny’s decision to use deadly force against Robinson,” U.S. District Court Judge James D. Peterson wrote in his opinion Monday.

“Whether Kenny’s use of force was objectively unreasonable is an issue that must be resolved at trial,” he concluded.

Robinson's friends called the police before leaving their residence on March 6, 2015, where Robinson remained, according to mother Andrea Irwin’s complaint.

Robinson was allegedly behaving "erratically," running in traffic and "speaking to his father, who was not present at the home."

A criminal investigation report describes Kenny as having said that he entered the home to intervene after assuming someone was being assaulted because he heard sounds of violence from inside the residence.

"Within seconds of entering the stairwell, Officer Kenny used his gun to fire seven shots at Tony Robinson," Irwin’s complaint states.

"In so doing, Defendant Kenny fired a first volley of three shots, but then stopped to pick up his flashlight, which he had dropped. Defendant Kenny then took a step back and fired three more shots into Tony Robinson. Then, Defendant Kenny took another step back, raised his gun again, and fired a seventh shot."

According to the report, Kenny told investigators that Robinson struck him in the head as he reached the top of the stairs, and continued to "aggress" toward him as he fired shots out of fear Robinson would disable him and take his gun.

The first three shots were non-fatal, but the following four killed Robinson, Judge Peterson wrote.

“[W]hat happened in the stairwell on March 6, 2015, is sharply and genuinely disputed,” Peterson said in explaining why Kenny cannot join the city in dismissal from the case. “Expert evidence is critical to this case, because Kenny is the only remaining witness to what happened in the stairwell.”

But Irwin was unable to show that Kenny – who faced no discipline or charges for fatally shooting another man armed with a pellet gun in 2007 – relied on past Madison Police cases to determine his use of force would not be punished, Peterson ruled.

“The bottom line is that plaintiff has not adduced evidence to show that Robinson died because the City turned a blind eye to obvious problems with the police department’s investigation or response to officer-involved shootings. Accordingly, plaintiff’s constitutional claim against the City fails,” the ruling states.

Peterson also ruled that all of Irwin’s experts will be permitted to weigh in on the case, but quashed two of Kenny’s experts and only allowed a portion of two others’ opinions for jury consideration.

According to local news reports, Kenny was most recently on mounted patrol.

Jury selection in the trial is set to begin Feb. 27 at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Madison.

Categories / Civil Rights

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.