A local activist group held a candlelight vigil Sunday outside of Dane County District Attorney’s home to commemorate Tony Robinson’s death and urge officials to reopen his investigation.
Local activist group Black Umbrella representatives stated that their decision to hold the vigil outside of District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s house is intended to pressure him to reopen an investigation into Madison Police Department police officer Matt Kenny and his involvement with Robinson’s death. In 2015, Kenny shot and killed Robinson, an unarmed Black teenager, while responding to a call regarding Robinson’s erratic behavior.
“We believe in holding our elected officials accountable for their actions and inaction right at their doorstep,” Black Umbrella said in a statement to the Cardinal. “The district attorney has never allowed a sit down or conversation, or personally answered any phone calls or emails. He also has refused to comment on if he has the power to reopen the case against Matt Kenny.
Black Umbrella held the vigil because the statute of limitations regarding the shooting are due to expire on March 7, sparking renewed calls for officials to press criminal charges against Kenny.
Robinson’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin-Henry, created an online petition to file a lawsuit against Kenny and the MPD before the statute of limitations expires. In the petition, Irwin-Henry accuses Kenny of perjuring himself, and claims that the MPD failed to properly investigate its officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Lorien Carter, Robinson’s aunt who has been involved in activism and advocacy since Robinson’s death, said she expects that new testimony from expert witnesses will play a major role in showing that Kenny’s recollection of the shooting was inaccurate.
“Tony stood at six foot four, I believe. maybe six-five, Matthew Kenny stood at five foot nothing,” Carter said. “And every single bullet that entered my nephew's body is at a downward trajectory. If things have been the way that he said that it happened on the staircase, where he claimed to have fired up at him, then none of them would be facing downwards.”
In 2017 the city of Madison settled a $3.35 million lawsuit with Robinson’s family over allegations that Kenny lied about his encounter with Robinson.
According to Carter, attempts to pursue justice for Robinson’s death have been met with pushback from local officials, including the MPD, who declined to comment on the six year anniversary of Robinson’s death.
“Everybody in government has given us pushback,” Carter said. “The only time that I can genuinely say that I haven't received pushback is when you're talking to specific officers one-on-one who don't agree with what had happened.”
Carter claims that the District Attorney’s Office behaved unprofessionally following the death of Robinson, which added to the trauma experienced by family members. Carter alleged that Ozanne purposefully waited until Mother’s Day to inform Robinson’s family that he planned not to file charges against Kenny.
“The DA had decided to call us and let us know, even though he had known days before,” Carter said. “Even during the phone call, he said yeah, my wife didn't want me to call you on Mother's Day either. But I knew that there was no time that was going to be a good time.”
Carter also questioned Ozanne’s commitment to his constituents, claiming that the District Attorney failed to properly review all of the evidence surrounding the incident.
“He said that, ‘oh, because I’m a person of color, I can understand. Trust me when I tell you that this wasn't an easy decision for me to come to,’ but we all know it was,” Carter said. “It was so easy, in fact, that you didn't go over not a single stitch of evidence in crimes with police officer-involved shootings.”
Carter also said that, during her first visit with MPD following her nephew’s death, former interim Police Chief Vic Wahl made an insensitive joke.
“At the end of the interview, he looks at us and he smiles and he said to my brother and I ‘you two should come work for me.’ Did you just offer us a job after your department killed our nephew? Are you serious right now?” Carter said.
Carter voiced her hope that her efforts to pursue criminal charges against Kenny and the MPD will be aided by renewed interest in racial justice following the protests against police brutality that occurred throughout 2020.
“We’ve got the whole city of Madison wanting to participate now,” said Carter. “This year is the first year that we have just huge public support because of everything that happened in 2020 with racial injustice coming out.”