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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Law for independent investigations of officer-involved shootings put to test in Tony Robinson case

As protests continue, the state will determine what is to come in its examination of the shooting
Photos by Jason Chan and Nyal Mueenuddin, Design by Alix DeBroux

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, layed sideways in her car Friday night as she was within hearing distance of the multiple shots that killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson.

That night, Madison Police Department officer Matt Kenny, a 12-year veteran of the force, fatally shot an unarmed Robinson after responding to calls of a disturbance. The death has sparked protests throughout the city that continued Wednesday, with protesters heading to the governor’s mansion in Maple Bluff.

Jason Chan

The state’s Department of Justice, rather than MPD, is now investigating the shooting, which is required under a law Taylor introduced last year that mandates independent investigations of officer-related shootings.


The law, which she coauthored with former Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, made Wisconsin the first state in the country to pass a law like this, with Connecticut soon following.

The Robinson case does not stand alone. The high-profile shooting last year of Milwaukee’s Dontre Hamilton by a veteran officer helped to once again bring officer-involved shootings in Wisconsin into the spotlight.

Courtesy of Hamilton Family

Taylor said she was inspired to take on this legislation when a Madison police officer fatally shot Paul Heenan, 30, after he drunkenly entered a neighbor’s home in 2012. That officer was cleared of charges after an internal investigation.

Bies, meanwhile, said constituent Michael Bell, whose son was killed by an officer in 2004, contacted him in an attempt to change the way these types of cases were handled.

“Bell’s son was killed while in police custody, and there was a lack of an open, transparent and proper investigation,” Bies said.

Bies is the former chief deputy sheriff of Door County’s Sheriff Department.

Taylor said the new process of investigating officer-involved shootings will help improve accountability in these kinds of deaths.

“This is a tragedy,” Taylor said. “The question is how do you move forward and make our laws even better?  How do you move forward and guarantee justice for people and families and fairness to the officer at the same time?”

The bill also includes requirements for families of those killed or hurt in officer-involved incidents to be fully informed of their options for litigation, Taylor said.

But while the bill will help improve justice in these cases, Taylor said, other parts that were originally part of the bill did not pass.

That includes a provision that would have created a review board made up of people in law enforcement fields examining these investigations, Taylor said. The board would have had the power to make recommendations for more evidence, and even suggest different training for units where an officer is under investigation, Taylor said.

“We took a really good first step with the independent investigations bill,” Taylor said. “But it was just the first step.”

Courtesy of Robinson Family

More positions in DOJ

As Taylor’s law adds responsibilities to the state’s Department of Justice, Attorney General Brad Schimel asked the Joint Finance Committee last week to add positions to DOJ to investigate officer-involved deaths.

Schimel had asked Gov. Scott Walker to add five new positions in his budget, but Walker did not include those positions in the biennial budget proposal he introduced last month.

Laurel Patrick, Walker’s spokesperson, told the Capital Times that the governor’s office thought DOJ did not receive enough requests to add additional funding but that the governor would be “willing to work with [DOJ] and the state Legislature to ensure adequate funding.”

In Schimel’s testimony, he highlighted the difficult nature in the investigation of these incidents and how they are often accompanied by open records requests, which require substantial manpower on the part of the agency. He said the creation of the five new positions would expedite these cases.

“Officer-involved death cases are very time-consuming,” Schimel said. “It is critical to public confidence in law enforcement that the investigations be conducted expeditiously and capably.”

Former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, however, had called the law “unnecessary.” Van Hollen and Schimel are both Republicans.

Next steps

Schimel released a lengthy statement Monday outlining the next steps in the Robinson investigation.

Schimel said DOJ has assigned teams of agents from the Division of Criminal Investigations office across the state to work on the case.

“The Wisconsin Department of Justice is expeditiously working to complete the investigation,” Schimel said.

Schimel said Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne will review the facts provided by the DOJ and release a public statement with his conclusions.

MPD, meanwhile, will stay out of the investigation unless it’s asked to cooperate, MPD Chief Mike Koval told reporters Saturday.

In an interview with CNN this week, Koval said he hoped the case would not define the department.

“I’m hopeful that when given an opportunity, the community, the family and their friends … will forgive us and that we can move on constructively and reestablish that trust we need to do good community policing,” Koval said.

MPD Chief addresses nation in interview after death of Tony Robinson

Robinson’s uncle, Turin Carter, said at a news conference Wednesday he trusted the state to investigate the case thoroughly and transparently.

“We’ve spoken to investigators from DCI, we trust them and we trust them to handle this with integrity and to treat it as it comes,” Carter said. “We don’t want our biases involved, we don’t want anybody else’s. We want them to act strictly as fact finders. And that’s what they’ve ensured us and we believe in, we have confidence in that.”

Jason Chan

Bies also said he was satisfied with the way MPD and the state have been handling this investigation so far. A blood test was taken from Matt Kenny, the officer who shot Robinson, after the incident. This was a part of the original bill that did not get passed, Bies said.

Taylor, whom DCI interviewed as a witness, said from what she can tell, the state is doing a good job being thorough and transparent with the investigation so far.

“I think what we need to do now is make sure the investigation is done in a way that is in accordance with the law,” Taylor said.

But the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, which organized Wednesday’s protest, said it is on the community to demand justice.

“We know Ferguson because people got involved in the rebellion,” Adams said. “We know Ferguson because people organized in an order to get justice here we need to do just that. We’ve got no shortage of people who can talk the talk. We’ve got no shortage of people who ‘care.’ But there is a shortage of pressure from people impacted, pressure from the community to change quickly.”

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