Madison community mourns teen killed in altercation with police
MADISON -- Before a police officer shot and killed Tony T. Robinson Jr., an unarmed black man, the 19-year-old had been outside of a gas station "yelling and jumping in front of cars" and was involved in at least two altercations that evening, ac...
MADISON - Before a police officer shot and killed Tony T. Robinson Jr., an unarmed black man, the 19-year-old had been outside of a gas station “yelling and jumping in front of cars” and was involved in at least two altercations that evening, according to police dispatch recordings.
About 15 minutes of the Friday night Madison police dispatch recordings were posted online by a website called Liberty News. In the recordings, the subject is identified as Tony Robinson, 19, with a dispatcher saying that the man apparently had hit one of his friends. “No weapons were seen,” the dispatcher said.
A few seconds later, the dispatcher said that Robinson entered a residence at 1125 Williamson St., on the city’s near east side, and tried to strangle someone.
The dispatcher said that the person being strangled was a “patron,” apparently a customer from the gas station across the street from the two-story home Robinson went into.
About 20 seconds after Officer Matt Kenny entered the residence he could be heard breathing loudly and saying, “shots fired.”
Seven seconds later, Kenny yelled, “shots fired, start an ambulance - at least one.”
The shooting occurred about 6:30 p.m. Friday. Robinson died at a hospital.
“There’s no doubt that we have to be clear about this: He was unarmed,” Madison Police Chief Mike Koval told reporters on Saturday. “That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators, for the public to accept.”
The state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation will conduct an independent review of the shooting, as required by state law.
This is the second fatal shooting involving Kenny as a Madison police officer.
Madison police officers were involved in two fatal shootings in 2014, Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said. This is the first shooting by a Madison police officer this year.
The shooting of Robinson sparked protests on Friday and Saturday in Madison and prompted comparisons with other high-profile killings by police of black men across the country.
Those deaths included Dontre Hamilton at Red Arrow Park in Milwaukee, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.
Shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday, around 100 protesters carrying a large white banner reading “Black Lives Matter” walked down Williamson St. as police cordoned off the area to traffic.
They carried smaller signs that read “Not one more,” “It’s not fair” and “Why not try love?” as they chanted Robinson’s name and “No justice, no peace.”
DeSpain confirmed Sunday that Robinson was arrested last April 25 with three other people in connection with an armed home invasion at a Madison apartment.
According to a department incident report, Robinson, then 18, was arrested with the two other men and one woman shortly before 6 a.m. as they were fleeing an apartment with electronics and other property. Also recovered was a shotgun and a facsimile of a handgun.
No injuries were reported in the case, police said. Robinson pleaded guilty to felony armed robbery and received three years probation, according court records.
Community members said Robinson graduated from Sun Prairie High School in 2014 and was preparing to enroll in college.
He was a caretaker for his ailing mother, and a father figure to his three younger siblings.
He played youth football on Madison’s North Side and once dreamed of an NFL career.
He loved skateboarding, the breakdancing movie “Kickin’ It Old Skool,” and all types of music, but mostly hip-hop.
Robinson’s friends shared those memories, a portrait that was at odds with descriptions by police of Robinson.
“He just encouraged everyone to do their best,” said 16-year-old Samantha Sorum, huddled next to friend Isabella Denson outside of the Williamson Street home where fewer than 24 hours earlier the unarmed Robinson was shot and killed by a Madison police officer.
At a meeting at Fountain of Life Church on Saturday, family members read a statement from his mother, Andrea Irwin, who asked for respect as she and her children mourn their loss.
“What you see on paper is nothing compared to who he was as a person, a brother, a son, a friend,” Irwin said in the statement.
“At this point, I can’t even compute what has happened, because it is not yet real. I haven’t even had the chance to see his body to make it real for me yet.”
On Sunday afternoon, a makeshift memorial of brightly colored star- and heart-shaped balloons, bouquets of flowers, candles in glass bottles stuck in a dirty snow bank and small stuffed animals drew passers-by on the busy street in front of the two-story duplex where Robinson was shot.
Three homes were still roped off with yellow police tape extending to the sidewalk, so pedestrians walked on the other side of the street. Some stopped to take pictures. Traffic occasionally backed up as cars slowed while several uniformed police officers stood next to the house and in a parking lot across the street.
The memorial included a portrait of a smiling Robinson hugging a woman and the words “Ferguson to Madison. Black Lives Matter.” On the sidewalk next to the gas station across from the home someone had left a cardboard sign with the words “This is not fair!! Enough with RACISM!!”
Outside the house, Kathleen Gilbertson knelt in the snow bank next to the memorial. Her head was bowed. She wiped away tears. She said Robinson was her nephew’s best friend, and she had known Robinson for six or seven years.
“Friendly guy, sweet guy, always helped people out. Always had a smile on his face,” Gilbertson said of Robinson, adding he was a father figure to his younger siblings.
“I think police are trained to diffuse situations, and they did not do that,” Gilbertson said. “I don’t understand why they had to use lethal force. He didn’t shoot anybody. He didn’t even have a weapon. They didn’t have to shoot him.”
Paul Hendrickson stood on the sidewalk surveying the scene.
“I work with black youth in the area. It really hurts to know this could be them,” said Hendrickson. “I needed to come pay my respects and cry. I have no answers for the black kids I work with about how we’re going to fix this.”
The Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this report.