The family of an Madison teenager fatally shot by a police officer will receive $3.35 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed over his death.
The settlement came as a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil in Madison said for the first time his office is reviewing the shooting along with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice — a development welcomed by attorneys for the teen’s family.
The decision to settle the case ignited a furious response from local law enforcement, who said the officer should have had the chance to defend himself in court.
Tony Robinson Jr., a 19-year-old biracial man, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by Madison police officer Matt Kenny in March 2015. Kenny was responding to 911 calls about Robinson being aggressive and behaving erratically. Robinson’s death sparked large, but peaceful, protests throughout the city.
The family’s lawsuit turned on whether Kenny was being accurate and truthful when he said he was assaulted by Robinson.
Attorneys for the Robinson family said the settlement showed they had a strong case and added they would try to use it now to force further changes in the Police Department.
“This is absolutely vindication for the Robinson family,” attorney Anand Swaminathan said.
The settlement has no admission of wrongdoing and will be paid for by the city’s insurer. In 2015, the city of Madison reached a $2.3 million settlement with the family of a musician killed by an officer.
Kenny previously was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat who like Robinson is biracial. An internal police investigation determined that he didn’t violate department policies.
The lawsuit — filed against Kenny and the city — questioned the officer’s version of events. In part, the family’s attorneys that the officer lied about getting into an altercation with Robinson as a justification for shooting him at an east side home. They questioned why Kenny didn’t wait for backup before entering the building’s stairwell, and argued he was at the bottom of the stairs when he began shooting at Robinson.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin noted that the city had been dismissed from the case on Feb. 13, and as a result of that and the city’s insurance policy had no standing or say in the settlement.
“Officer Kenny was forced to make immediate decisions in dangerous circumstances which led to tragic consequences,” Soglin said in a statement.
Aspokesman for Kenny said he was “extraordinarily disappointed” in the settlement decision.
Jim Palmer, an attorney representing Kenny who is also the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said the “city’s insurance company chose to make a business decision that was more concerned with the costs of litigation than the facts of the case.”
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval acknowledged the pain of Robinson’s family and the fact that the money would not bring back the teenager
Kenny has said when he exited his squad car, he heard sounds of a disturbance from an upstairs apartment on Williamson St., and, believing a fight was taking place, radioed dispatch that he was going to go in. He also drew his firearm. Robinson reportedly struck Kenny on the left side of his head and knocked him to the wall and kept coming, Kenny told investigators.
Kenny shot Robinson seven times in three seconds.
Agents under Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel investigated the case under the provisions of the state’s independent review of police shootings. At a separate news conference Thursday, Schimel said that Robinson’s death was a tragedy but that it was also tragic that “the law enforcement officer had to use deadly force to protect himself.”
*Originally published on Journal Sentinel.