Lawyers for Tony Robinson family present their version of shooting, ask for more scrutiny

March 8, 2017

Presenting what looked and sounded like an argument intended for a jury, lawyers for the family of Tony Robinson, the 19-year-old man shot two death two years ago by a Madison police officer, said Monday that nothing the officer said after the shooting matched the evidence at the scene.

Instead, the lawyers argued that Madison police and the city should revisit Robinson’s shooting death so that appropriate actions and reforms can come from it.

“We’re not out to demonize or go on a hunt, but we think it’s important for this information to be known,” said Anand Swaminathan, one of the lawyers who represented Robinson’s family in its civil lawsuit against Officer Matt Kenny and the city of Madison.

The entire argument and supporting documents are detailed on a website, tonyrobinsonshooting.com.

The city was dismissed from the lawsuit by a federal judge, but the city’s insurance company, which represented Kenny, settled with Robinson’s family last month for $3.35 million, the largest settlement in state history for a police shooting.

The settlement headed off a trial that was to have started on Feb. 27.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval and Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, have criticized the settlement, saying it deprived Kenny of his day in court. Palmer again said on Monday that Kenny has been repeatedly exonerated, and said the entire file in the investigation has been available to the public for nearly two years.

“It is more than a little mystifying how some can claim bias on the part of the law enforcement agencies that investigated this matter while touting the alternative facts and theories asserted by people on the Robinson family payroll,” Palmer said in a statement Monday.

“We also find it difficult to reconcile the Robinson family’s efforts to try their case in the court of public opinion when they settled to stay out of a court of law,” he added. “If the Robinson family felt as confident about their claims as they suggest, then they shouldn’t have agreed to a settlement.”

‘A story told’

But Swaminathan said that based on forensic evidence, video and audio evidence, expert opinions and witness statements, events could not have happened as Kenny described them. Analysis of the evidence by lawyers for Robinson’s family cast doubt on whether Kenny was attacked at all by Robinson in the stairwell 1125 Williamson St., as he told investigators.

The attack, Kenny told investigators, prompted him to fire one barrage of shots into Robinson at close range at the top of the stairs, and another barrage at the bottom of the stairs, where he said Robinson had “aggressed” toward him.

“For two years, it’s been a story told about how Tony Robinson attacked a police officer and got shot,” Swaminathan said.

The defense theory was first laid out back in November, in a court document opposing Kenny’s request that the lawsuit against him be dismissed. Instead of an attack against Kenny by Robinson, Swaminathan said, Kenny first shot Robinson from the bottom of the stairs, as Robinson came down from the top of the stairs, possibly after tripping on something. The reason for firing the shot, Swaminathan said, “was simply the presence of Tony Robinson in the stairwell.”

Those initial three shots, Swaminathan said, show none of the tell-tale stippling or contact burns that are seen in the kind of close-range shots that Kenny described firing during close contact with Robinson.

Once Robinson was at the bottom of the stairs, Swaminathan said, he’s in a more or less seated position, his feet just out the door to the porch at the bottom of the stairs, where Kenny fired four more shots — the ones that killed him. Those shots were fired at close range, he said, and show stippling and burning characteristic of shots fired from less than 4 feet away.

Shell casings from Kenny’s gun all were also found at the bottom of the stairs or just outside the stairwell door, he said.

Evidence of attack?

There’s also little to no evidence that Kenny was attacked, Swaminathan said. Kenny cited a dent in the drywall at the top of the stairs caused by his head, and initially claimed he might have suffered a concussion. But Swaminathan said the dent could have been in the wall before and seized upon by Kenny when he was allowed to walk through the scene after the shooting. He said Kenny also presented no medical evidence that he had sustained a concussion.

Also cited was video from the squad car’s dashboard camera, showing Kenny entering and exiting the stairwell, and firing gunshots into the stairwell. When synced with audio from another officer’s audio recorder, Swaminathan said, Kenny’s claim that he had identified himself as a police officer when he entered, and that Robinson had mocked Kenny’s presence, falls apart. Swaminathan also said that a downstairs neighbor who heard the shots also did not hear voices before the shots were fired.

Swaminathan said that none of the inconsistencies in Kenny’s story were truly investigated until after the lawsuit was filed, and then only by lawyers for the Robinson family.

David Owens, another lawyer for Robinson’s family, said the city chose not to adequately investigate inconsistencies in Kenny’s account.

“That’s the reason we’re here, to try to bridge the informational gap,” Owens said.