The story behind an eight-year fight for justice for Tony Robinson | News |

Boyfriend Jeff Jackson comforts Andrea Irwin, the mother of Tony Robinson Jr., while escorting her during a protest march along Williamson Street in Madison in 2015.

Students protest the officer-involved shooting death of Tony Robinson Jr. in 2015. Minimalist Gun Holster

On April 6, 2015, family of Tony Robinson Jr. mourn outside the door where the 19-year-old was shot and killed by Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny one month earlier.

In this March 6, 2015 dash camera video, Officer Matt Kenny, center, backs away from the door after shooting inside an apartment in Madison.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announces the decision in the Tony Robinson Jr. shooting at the Dane County Public Safety Building in 2015.

Sharon Irwin, grandmother of Tony Robinson Jr., speaks through a megaphone as she joins a student protest at East High School months after her grandson was shot and killed by a police officer.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval departs a Wednesday, June 3, 2015 press conference in the department's Central District station after speaking to members of the media about the department's exoneration of Officer Matt Kenny in the shooting death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr.

“You can’t see him. He’s evidence.”

Those words greeted a frightened, confused and distraught Sharon Irwin at University Hospital around 7 p.m. the night of March 6, 2015.

About an hour earlier, Irwin had been running errands with her daughter Lolo and her 15-year-old grandson, Jordan Robinson. They were on their way from a Mobil gas station on the east side to pick up Sharon’s husband, Tyrone.

Sharon and Jordan were in the car when Lolo ran to the vehicle, crying and telling Sharon that her grandson, 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr., had been shot.

Jordan knew in his heart what the family would eventually confirm.

“My brother’s dead,” he said to Sharon and Lolo in the car.

“Don’t say that,” Lolo responded.

“My brother’s dead,” he repeated, ignoring her plea.

The three drove to 1125 Williamson St. That’s where Tony had been staying since December at a friend’s upstairs apartment, along a busy thoroughfare on Madison’s east side.

“We went to the scene and police were there,” Jordan remembers. “Then we went to the hospital after that and from there it was just a spiral of emotions for my family. Police were blocking every door. I’m pretty sure it was because they knew what condition he was in. They weren’t letting us in. My mom and dad were there. They were trying to see him and trying to get any information. They weren’t letting them in. I was in shock at what was going on.”

Sharon, Jordan, Lolo and Tyrone arrived at the hospital and saw Madison Police Department officers everywhere. Two officers were stationed at a set of double doors leading into the emergency room. Another stood at a door near an exit that could also lead to the emergency room. Two officers were in a room with Andrea Irwin, Tony’s mother, and one was outside the door of that room.

Andrea Irwin was not allowed to bring her boyfriend in the room, and police officers prevented her from joining the rest of the family in the waiting area.

Police also would not let Andrea into the room where her son’s body lay, although there were multiple officers in that room. Initially, police did not allow Andrea to use her phone.

Sharon tried to get to her daughter. A security officer put his hand on her shoulder to stop her.

“Don’t touch me,” Sharon said, and she walked to the front desk and demanded to know what was happening and to talk to her daughter.

“They said he’s been shot and we don’t know his condition,” Sharon recalled.

Madison police officers had taken control of the scene, including the front desk.

Sharon approached them, repeatedly. “Let me go see my daughter,” she said.

“This man had the nerve to tell me she didn’t wanna see me. I said, “You’re a f***ing liar. I wanna see my daughter now!”

That’s when Lolo received a call from Andrea, who was finally allowed by officers to use her phone. And that’s when Sharon knew for sure she would never see Tony alive again.

Jordan was sitting on a window sill in the waiting room as Lolo responded on the phone, “We’re here, sis, we’re here. They won’t let us in.”

“Then I saw her bend over saying ‘No, no, no.’ I knew then that my grandson was dead.”

Sharon wanted to see Tony’s body now that she knew the truth about his condition. She was told no, as were Tony’s parents.

“I said, ‘Let me go see him. I’m not going to touch him. I just want to tell him it’s OK, he can go home.’ This little man had the nerve to say to me I couldn’t.”

“You can’t see him,” the police officer at the desk said, Sharon recalled. “He’s evidence.”

“You can’t see him. He’s evidence.”

No one in the family was allowed to be in the room with Tony Robinson’s body or “kiss him while he was still warm,” as Andrea later told Wisconsin Department of Justice investigators.

Police officers eventually let Andrea join the family outside of the emergency room but requested that she “not make any noise in the hallway.”

They then locked the emergency room doors as the family departed.

It wasn’t until the 9 p.m. television news reports that night that Sharon heard Matt Kenny’s name for the first time and found out which police officer killed her grandson.

In the eight years since, neither the family nor the community has had closure on Tony’s death. Questions remain unanswered and details unresolved.

A policeman called the 19-year-old’s body “evidence.” But it remains unclear how that evidence was used, or whether a young man’s remains told a clearer story of what happened that evening in a Williamson Street stairwell. How can it be determined whether his body is evidence of a police officer’s dutiful execution of public protection, or unlawful execution of a teenager?

In Madison, those questions have been asked loudly through megaphones at rallies. They have been asked softly with tears in lonely moments by Tony’s family members. They have been asked angrily by his grandmother outside of City Council meetings, courthouses and public events. They have been asked by newcomers to Madison, including current Police Chief Shon Barnes, who has met with the family and community members about the shooting and Officer Kenny’s continued presence on the force.

Now the questions surrounding Tony Robinson Jr.’s death may finally be asked inside a criminal court of law.

Boyfriend Jeff Jackson comforts Andrea Irwin, the mother of Tony Robinson Jr., while escorting her during a protest march along Williamson Street in Madison in 2015.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne refused to charge Kenny with Tony Robinson’s death. But a rarely cited Wisconsin state statute gives a citizen the right to ask a judge to determine probable cause for a criminal complaint if the DA refuses or is unable to do so.

A criminal complaint is the official title of a charging document that alleges a crime has been committed.

Over the past few years, Sharon Irwin has worked with a team of pro-bono lawyers to find a way to hold Kenny criminally responsible for Tony’s death. They landed on this state law, which had been used only once before.

The family also pursued a federal civil rights suit against the city and Kenny over Tony’s death. The city was later dropped as a defendant, but the city's insurer settled for $3.35 million in 2017. The terms of the settlement include no admission of wrongdoing, though the settlement at the time was the largest in state history for an officer-involved shooting. The terms of the settlement also preclude Andrea Irwin from pursuing further actions against Kenny.

Her mother, Sharon, did not take any of the money and can continue the fight.

The team of lawyers, led by Syovata Edari and Jessa Nicholson, were successful in petitioning Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas to review the case.

In December, Colas initially set dates of Feb. 20 and 21 for a hearing that will determine whether probable cause exists to charge Kenny with a crime. The February court dates have been postponed, however, because of Colas’ retirement on Dec. 17.

If a judge decides the evidence merits a criminal complaint, the court will select a special prosecutor to seek the conviction of Officer Matt Kenny for Tony’s death.

Kenny would then be arrested and charged with killing the teenager, and based on protocol he would be placed on administrative leave from the Police Department. A special prosecutor would decide what specific charges Kenny would face.

If the court does not find probable cause, Kenny will not face criminal charges for the shooting.

Seven circuit judges recused themselves and refused to take the case, citing conflicts ranging from personal connections with police and prosecutors to involvement with the Robinsons, including Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Everett Mitchell, who presided over Tony’s funeral. Finally, longtime Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke agreed to hear the case, though he has not yet set new dates for the probable cause hearing. That hearing will be ex parte, as the statute says, meaning Kenny will not participate in the proceedings.

Students protest the officer-involved shooting death of Tony Robinson Jr. in 2015.

“You ever have the feeling you’re going to live forever? I mean like you’re never going to die? I’m going to be great, I don’t know how yet but I do. Just watch. I’m going to change the world.” – Tony Robinson Jr., in a quote displayed at his funeral.

Tony Robinson Jr. was known as Terrell, his middle name, by those who knew and loved him. He was the eldest of Andrea Irwin’s six children and was known from an early age to be a happy-go-lucky person who always believed the good in people.

Jordan Robinson never got the opportunity to get to know his big brother when they would have been old enough to do things together.

“I would say in our younger years we used to hang out much more, up until I was like 10. And then, you know, he found his buddies,” Jordan said. “But other than that our relationship was pretty moderate at the time. It didn't get to blossom to us being like buddy-buddy.”

For Jordan, the loss hit him hardest as he grew older and more aware of the circumstances around Tony’s death. At 22, he is now older than Tony was when he was killed and understands the growing pains Tony was going through at the time.

“I see him being (then) like what I am right now,” Jordan said. “Just mentally trying to grasp the real world…. As he was getting older he was starting to change his life and be better.”

“You ever have the feeling you’re going to live forever? I mean like you’re never going to die? I’m going to be great, I don’t know how yet but I do. Just watch. I’m going to change the world.”

– Tony Robinson Jr., in a quote displayed at his funeral.

Tony’s childhood was tumultuous as he witnessed his family elders struggle with poverty, tragic death, racism and drug addiction.

Tony’s uncle Turin Carter could see the boy’s soul was scarred as early as age 5 by things happening in the family and the community around him. Carter describes Tony’s childhood as having multiple stages and being hectic. His nephew experienced “too much, too soon,” he said. Carter’s own childhood had been rough, and he said the family was breaking up or coming apart around the time Tony was born.

Carter, who was five years older than his nephew, said he played the role of big brother.

“He was somebody who had complex feelings about the world and had no problem feeling all of those things,” Carter said. “He was easy to empathize with and easily empathized with other people. He didn’t run from his emotions.”

But being a big brother to Tony was a challenge at times for Carter, who moved to New York City around the time Tony was born. He still feels guilty he wasn’t there, physically, when Tony struggled as a teen and especially on the day of the shooting.

“He started slipping, in terms of the company he was keeping,” Carter said. “He was being around people who didn’t have a lot going for them.”

On April 6, 2015, family of Tony Robinson Jr. mourn outside the door where the 19-year-old was shot and killed by Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny one month earlier.

Tony had been crashing at the apartment of friends in March 2015, although his permanent residence was in McFarland at the time.

According to investigative reports and interviews with Tony’s family, on the morning and afternoon of the shooting he had been hanging out with several people. He had smoked marijuana, taken Xanax and bought psychedelic mushrooms from an acquaintance in Monona.

One of Tony’s friends watched in horror as the 19-year-old ingested nearly 7 grams of the psychedelics. His friends told investigators Tony was so high he believed trees were speaking to him.

His friends dropped him off at 1125 Williamson around 5 or 6 p.m., by which time Tony was extremely high and behaving erratically. He was taking wild swings at his roommates and people out on the sidewalk; he leaped into traffic and was nearly run over; he put his hands around the neck of one bystander, immediately apologized and appeared to the bystander like he had no idea what he was doing. Tony was speaking to people who weren’t there, such as his father.

One of his friends called 911, afraid Tony would be hit by a vehicle as he crossed Williamson Street with no regard for traffic.

Tony’s friend told the 911 operator “he’s tweaking” because of the mushrooms and that he needed help. They asked for someone to come check on him. The friend told the operator that Tony was unarmed and was never known to carry any weapons.

Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny responded to the “check-person” call with instructions from a dispatcher.

Dash camera footage from Kenny’s patrol car shows the officer arriving minutes after the first 911 call. The video shows Kenny draw his gun while still outside the apartment and radio to the dispatch center that he was going inside, even though his backups, Sgt. Jamar Gary and Officer John Christian, were already in the driveway of the apartment and could have joined Kenny in the stairwell.

In a statement at the time, Kenny said he heard a disturbance upstairs that sounded like Robinson strangling someone, and that’s why he needed to enter right away and go up to the apartment. Kenny alleges Tony met him near the top of the stairs and began to punch him repeatedly and that Kenny had to shoot him at point-blank range.

Forensic reports that the family included in the 2017 civil suit say that all the shell casings were found at the bottom of the steps or outside the apartment, calling into question Kenny’s assertion that he began firing on Tony at the top of the steps.

The dash cam shows Kenny backing out of the door less than 20 seconds after entering, firing his gun, a Glock semi-automatic pistol.

Some of the shots are fired after Tony’s feet appear in the doorway, indicating he was already down.

A still frame from the dash cam video shows Kenny standing fully outside with Tony’s feet hanging out the door as the officer appears to still be shooting him.

By the time he was done pulling the trigger, Kenny had fired seven shots at the 19-year-old, all of which struck him.

The other two officers, Gary and Christian, ran to Kenny, who shouted “Don’t move” to Tony’s motionless body.

“There’s somebody upstairs, there’s somebody upstairs,” Kenny could be heard yelling to Gary. Gary announced himself as Madison police and went inside the house.

When Gary returned, he asked to speak to Kenny in the backyard. Kenny asked Gary who was upstairs, according to Kenny’s statement to investigators.

In this March 6, 2015 dash camera video, Officer Matt Kenny, center, backs away from the door after shooting inside an apartment in Madison.

Gary told him there was no one upstairs. He then instructed another officer to stay with Kenny.

Olga Ennis, who lived across the street at the time, told The Guardian that she observed the police response after the shooting.

“I watched them drag his body out of the house,” Ennis told the international news outlet in 2015. “That image is not leaving my head and it’s killing me inside right now. I watched them drag him out like a piece of garbage.”

The scene of Tony’s shooting was tense with emotion in the moments afterward.

“You f***ing shot him!” one bystander was heard yelling, according to Department of Justice reports. In Wisconsin, the Department of Justice regularly investigates officer-involved shootings, in addition to investigations police departments conduct internally.

“Why did you kill him?” a woman in a neighboring home heard someone yell.

Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores, who went to high school with Andrea Irwin and Tony Robinson Sr., Tony’s father, lived nearby and looked to see what was happening.

“When I went out on my back patio I could hear Tony’s friends’ sounds of sadness and them crying so loud that I could hear it 150 yards away,” Kilfoy-Flores remembers. “Their cries of pain is what I could hear, and I felt like I needed to go over there and help them.”

She walked to the scene of Tony’s shooting.

“It was just horrific and sad, and really shook my sense of safety,” Kilfoy-Flores said. “I grew up a block away and my children sleep less than 100 yards away. What if it had been my daughter who was in need of help and then was killed instead?”

Both Kilfoy-Flores and her daughter, Sirena, were devastated by Tony’s death. They both used art as a way of conveying that pain. Sirena Flores painted a large mural of Tony in his graduation gown on State Street during the summer of 2020.

Kilfoy-Flores told the Cap Times in tears that the mural was vandalized with graffiti multiple times.

“The first time I didn't even have the heart to tell (Sirena) that someone defaced it, and I covered it up before she could see it,” Kilfoy-Flores said. “We cleaned it up and it was defaced again. Terrell’s murder really motivated her to pursue her education and now she’s considering going to law school herself.”

On May 12, 2015, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced that the Madison Police Department had cleared Kenny of any wrongdoing and that he would not prosecute the officer.

Ozanne, who is bi-racial like Tony, talked about his own racial identity and wiped the sweat from his brow and face throughout the press conference. Ozanne explained his view that Kenny had been attacked by Tony and that Kenny had acted lawfully in shooting him.

The prosecutor “was sweating like a stuck pig,” said Kristin Matthews, a friend of Sharon Irwin’s who has been on the front lines of keeping Tony’s memory alive in pursuit of justice. “That man was so nervous. But yeah, he was lying through his teeth. You could tell from his whole demeanor and how he was sweating.”

Tony’s uncle Turin Carter believed Ozanne was acting on behalf of a mostly white constituency and believes the decision not to prosecute Kenny was made by more people than the district attorney.

“It’s pretty clear what happened. We have a Black man that’s the DA in a mostly white state that’s fought hard to keep that whiteness intact,” Carter said. “He had immense pressure and was told there’s no way he can let this get to indictment. Ozanne knew exactly what he was doing. I know why he was sweating. I think we all did.”

The Robinson family was in a nearby room where they expected to have personal time with Ozanne. The district attorney walked past them without a word, straight to the podium, according to Sharon Irwin.

During the press conference, Ozanne said: “I have privately shared my condolences with Andrea Irwin.”

Sharon Irwin bristles at that characterization.

“Ozanne called her on Mother’s Day to say he wasn’t gonna charge Kenny,” she said. “He couldn’t even wait until Monday.”

Sharon Irwin had heard enough during the press conference and got up and left well before Ozanne, who had already spoken for nearly 20 minutes, got to the news that he wasn’t charging Kenny.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announces the decision in the Tony Robinson Jr. shooting at the Dane County Public Safety Building in 2015.

Ozanne did not respond to multiple requests from the Cap Times to interview him on the topic of Tony Robinson Jr.

The pain Tony’s family and their supporters felt after the district attorney’s announcement was even worse after Mayor Paul Soglin held a subsequent press conference and made comments that would be hard to imagine in the post-George Floyd world.

Soglin smiled often during his 3 ½-minute statement.

“This is an outcome that many in our community support,” the mayor said.

Turin Carter said he isn’t sure who Soglin meant, because about 1,000 people had gathered to protest Ozanne’s decision as the mayor spoke.

“It’s a complete disconnect. East Washington was shut down. City hall was full of protesters with signs,” Carter said. “The majority of people disagreed with that decision.”

Soglin said the best response to this “tragedy” would be “to increase opportunities for every resident of Madison and invest in initiatives that promote equity and social justice.” The answer, according to Soglin, was to have only peaceful protests.

It would not be the last time the family and their supporters felt a public slap in the face, they said.

“I would say the most insulting and hurtful shit was the things that were assumed (about Tony in the media),” Carter said. “Misinformation about who he was as a person. A lot of papers in the headlines talking about he’s a convict. The publication of criminal history and all the assumptions that go along with that. The shrooms blurred the narrative.”

Shortly after Tony was killed, there were numerous protests and calls for justice. As the years passed the fight took on different iterations. There were calls for an independent police monitor to investigate incidents involving Madison police; Sharon Irwin tried multiple times to get Ozanne to reopen the case and view evidence; family members and friends rallied for police accountability at community forums and City Council meetings.

At every turn, they were met with opposition. Police targeted community leaders like Brandi Grayson, who pointed to more than five citations she received for her actions protesting Tony’s killing. Some council members fought against hiring someone to independently monitor police, but eventually the city hired Robert Copley and he began working on Dec. 5, nearly eight years after the shooting.

Both online and in person, Sharon’s family encountered painful comments focusing on Tony’s race and calling him a convict. It felt to them that people portrayed the shooting as though Tony deserved to be killed.

“I had to remove myself from social media for about seven years,” said Eric Irwin, who is Sharon’s son and Tony Robinson’s uncle. “I would go read people’s comments and how they would talk shit about my mom without even knowing her and would call my nephew a thug, which he wasn’t. All the hurtful and racist comments, I couldn’t deal with them.”

Eric Irwin now lives in Canada but said he still can’t escape the trauma.

Sharon Irwin, grandmother of Tony Robinson Jr., speaks through a megaphone as she joins a student protest at East High School months after her grandson was shot and killed by a police officer.

“I would post about my nephew and people in this town that are even on my friends list would post some meme saying if you weren’t a thug you wouldn’t get shot and all of that,” he said.

The vitriol had also taken its toll on Jordan Robinson, who sometimes was ready to give up fighting for his older brother.

“Throughout this time I would come to points like ‘that is that’ and so we might as well let it go,” Jordan said.

But Sharon Irwin has been steadfast in her pursuit to hold Kenny accountable for the shooting. When others were ready to quit, she continued to move forward.

“Sharon has been through the wringer,” said her friend Matthews. “She’s literally been the person who has never stopped pushing for this. It takes a toll on you. Once the complaint was filed and it was getting into court, she was relieved in one way but also was like ‘I'm used to fighting, fighting, fighting. What am I supposed to do now?’”

Eric believes he knows what his mother can do once the fight is over: grieve.

“I don’t believe that my mom has 100% grieved the death of my nephew,” he said, “because she has been constantly submerged in this evidence and it hasn’t let her be able to try to heal.”

In March 2018, students at Madison East High school decided to have a rally and a march in the wake of the Parkland shooting in Florida in which 17 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Sharon Irwin’s grandsons, including Jordan, attended East and participated in the rally, and so did she.

As she looked around the crowd of engaged students, she couldn’t believe what she saw.

Officer Matt Kenny was on horseback as part of a mounted patrol monitoring the rally, she said. Irwin said she lost her mind when she saw him, particularly given the rally was about children who had been shot and killed.

“I told all the kids he’s a killer, you must watch out,” she said. “He will kill you.”

Irwin recalled that as she confronted Kenny, another officer told her to shut up and that if she didn’t stop he would arrest her.

“It was pretty bad. But all my grandchildren were there. It was traumatic seeing him there. He’s protecting kids? He kills them,” Irwin said. Kenny was removed from that protest by other MPD officers.

Irwin also clashed with then-Police Chief Mike Koval during a recess of a City Council meeting on June 7, 2016. The council was voting on an ad hoc committee’s recommendation for an audit of MPD policies and procedures.

The meeting itself was explosive and featured volatile behavior from the police chief. Koval slammed his hands on a desk during Irwin’s public comments to the council; at one point he stood up and began to storm out and then yelled at council members. Koval had multiple, tense interactions with the alders, including then-District 17 Ald. Samba Baldeh, who said he felt uncomfortable with Koval sitting behind him wearing a gun while being so irate.

During a break that night, Koval crossed paths with Irwin and Kilfoy-Flores.

“Sharon wanted a Coke and we ran into this couple and ended up in a stairwell where Chief Koval was talking to some people,” Kilfoy-Flores said. “Sharon was asking him why he wouldn’t investigate the Matt Kenny shooting.”

Koval waved off Irwin and began to walk down the stairs, pursued by Irwin.

“She said, ‘Why do you refuse to look at the evidence?’” Kilfoy-Flores said. “He puts his hand on his gun holster and says, ‘You’re a raving lunatic.’”

Both Kilfoy-Flores and Irwin filed complaints about the incident. The Police and Fire Commission, which oversees the chief of police, said that Koval’s actions were inappropriate but did not take disciplinary action against him.

“It was the scariest shit ever to think this man was in charge of our public safety,” said Kilfoy-Flores. “The way he reacted to her was so scary.”

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval departs a Wednesday, June 3, 2015 press conference in the department's Central District station after speaking to members of the media about the department's exoneration of Officer Matt Kenny in the shooting death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr.

Kenny is not without his supporters.

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, represented Kenny during the internal and external investigations into Robinson’s death. The officer was stalked by members of the community in the aftermath of the shooting, Palmer said.

“There was a strong public reaction and there were people at the time that were appearing outside of his home, and (on) social media there was a lot of attention to not only this case but also his whereabouts,” Palmer said. “There was a Facebook page created to keep track of sightings of Matt Kenny. It was a very stressful time for him.”

The investigation was exhaustive, he said.

“I'm not sure there has been an officer-involved shooting that has been so thoroughly investigated,” Palmer said.

Kenny is aware of the amount of pain and public outcry that the shooting has caused, Palmer said. He described Kenny’s mindset both at the time and since as sorrowful, but that he also believes he was acting within the bounds of his duty.

The Cap Times requested an interview with Kenny through a police department liaison but Kenny respectfully declined.

Palmer said Kenny should not be grouped with officers like Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis cop who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and was convicted of homicide, or the Memphis police who are charged with beating Tyre Nichols to death in January. Like Tony, Floyd and Nichols were unarmed Black men.

“Of course it's inaccurate to lump Kenny in with Chauvin or the Tyre Nichols officers,” Palmer said. “They don’t belong in the same universe together.”

Palmer points to the amount of video evidence in the other two cases that doesn’t exist in Tony’s shooting.

“We have clear evidence of what those officers did, in the case of Chauvin in particular,” Palmer said. “I think the video evidence the world has seen has been illustrative.”

Palmer believes that had Kenny been wearing a body camera, it would have prevented much of the turmoil because the public would have been able to see that he performed his duty appropriately.

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes differs from Palmer on whether there’s any relation between the officers’ actions in Minneapolis and Memphis and the killing of Tony Robinson. Even if Kenny’s actions differed from theirs, people in the public view them the same way, which erodes public confidence in police, Barnes said.

“Policing is global. You can’t be a police chief and think that something that happens in Minneapolis or Memphis or (the shooting of Jacob Blake in) Kenosha doesn’t affect you,” Barnes said. “It affects you. It’s our duty and our job to maintain that trust.”

Tony Robinson Jr.’s death lingers for activists not only because of his grandmother Sharon Irwin’s efforts but also because the stream of police incidents continues to flow.

Barnes said he is committed to changing the department from the inside out.

Since 2021, when Barnes became chief, the department has used two-person teams for calls like the one Kenny responded to when he shot Tony. The department also uses a training program called ICAT (integrating communications, assessment and tactics), which teaches officers how to defuse critical incidents.

“It’s about how to disengage and not be caught in the loop of things like ‘Show me your hands,’ and using a team approach,” Barnes said.

The chief credits the training for many of the department’s latest accomplishments, including recovering over 300 illegal firearms last year.

Barnes has heard both from Tony’s family and others in the community about the 19-year-old’s shooting. He has also heard the calls for Kenny to be removed from the force. Kenny currently works at the department’s training center.

Barnes said he believes having the best-trained and focused officers is the right response to the pain expressed by members of the community.

“Any chief who is sitting behind the desk saying, ‘This will never happen in my department’ is living in la la land,” Barnes said. “It’s better to put forth training and practices to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Barnes points to a need for body-worn cameras to be on every police officer. He is still developing policies for a pilot program approved last April and has not yet equipped officers with the cameras.

“If you were to get a call that someone you love was hurt or shot or killed, you would have all of these questions going through your mind. Then you find out they were shot or hurt during an interaction with a police officer. What would you want to know?” Barnes said. “And would you be upset if there was a tool to give you the answers that you didn’t have and the department did not have that tool? I want you to think about that.”

Tony Robinson Jr.'s mother, Andrea Irwin, sits outside the home where her son was shot and killed by a Madison police officer.

When her grandkids were growing up, Sharon Irwin spoke with them about how to act around white people. It is something Black and brown parents do because gestures, voice inflections and movements that seem normal to youths of color can come across as threatening, aggressive, or loud to white people.

It is because of shootings like Tony’s and the actions of other officers that parents of Black kids especially do this.

It is called “the talk” and it has not been enough to save every child from the consequences of these white misperceptions.

The aftermath of Tony’s death lingers not only because of Irwin’s efforts but also because controversial and deadly police incidents persist.

Retraumatization of communities of color in general and Tony Robinson’s family specifically transpires every time such incidents occur.

Tony’s family, particularly Sharon, has been propelled forward to fight not just in pursuit of justice for Tony but also for the families of other people brutalized by police.

Sharon Irwin is ready for the fight to finally happen in court.

“I’ve been a playground fighter against bullies my whole life,” Irwin said. “I’ve been preparing for this.”

The family and its allies hope this final attempt at holding Kenny accountable will pave the way for other families to fight if they don’t get justice from prosecutors.

“Our hope and dream is to get this precedent from this statute in place so that this can’t happen to another family,” said Mia Maysack, a friend who is involved in the Robinson family’s quest for justice. “So that it won’t be eight years for another family to get into court. We are trying to pave a different road to change the way things are done here in Wisconsin.”

Note: This story was updated to correct that Tony Robinson Jr. was reported to have consumed 7 grams of mushrooms prior to his shooting. An earlier version reported an incorrect amount.

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