Madison Police Chief Mike Koval: “I Could But I Choose Not To”

Much confusion surrounds the killing of 19-year-old Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin. Two things appear certain: he was shot and killed by Police Officer Matt Kenny, and he was unarmed. Beyond that, the narrative is vague.

According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, the officer, Matt Kenny, radioed in that he was going to check on the upstairs apartment just 20 seconds before the shooting.  Police say they received a call about a man, identified to them by dispatchers as Robinson, who had allegedly hit one of his friends and tried to strangle another person. Dispatchers reportedly told police no weapons were reported. Robinson was alone in the upstairs apartment, and police acknowledge he was unarmed when he was fatally shot. 

The specific justification for the shooting offered by Kenny was that Robinson “assaulted” him. The word “assaulted” is conclusory; we don’t know what Robinson actually did, but just that Kenny claims that he was assaulted. It fails to tell us enough to begin to comprehend what an unarmed Robinson did to cause Kenny to fire.

Bizarrely, an ABC article entitled “How the Tony Robinson shooting unfolded” offers this deep insight:

An altercation ensued and Kenny shot Robinson.

Thanks for clearing that up, ABC. And so we remain as uninformed as to what happened as before.

But what is surprisingly different in this case is that Madison Police Chief Mike Koval didn’t use the playbook. Via CNN:

The police chief refused to comment on Robinson’s criminal history or run-ins with police.

“I could but I choose not to,” he said at a press conference Saturday.

“I frankly think it is, for our purposes today, wholly inappropriate and I am not going to blemish anyone’s character, particularly someone’s as young as his.”

Finally.  Whatever happened within that apartment between Kenny and Robinson is all that matters when it comes to the determination of whether there was lawful justification for the killing.  Whatever Robinson did before, elsewhere, otherwise, in the past, has nothing to do with whether Kenny was justified in killing him.  Edit: Apparently, Mike Koval has a history of being a better human being than most when it comes to being a cop.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who said he met with Robinson’s family the night of the shooting, said officials aren’t going to put the teen on trial.

“That’s not what this is about. What this is about is finding out exactly what happened that night and to determine, then, responsibility,” he told CNN’s “AC360.” “We know that he was not armed, and as far as the police chief and I are concerned … the fact that Tony was involved in any kind of transgression in the past has nothing to do with this present tragedy.”

“What,” you ask?  How can that be, when the playbook commands that the first thing uttered by any government official is the past transgressions, whether real or imagined, of the dead kid?

After all, it shows what sort of person he is, and we all know the value of a person’s propensity to commit crimes or engage in violence. Plus, if we know he’s not up for sainthood, then we won’t care nearly as much that he was killed by a cop despite being unarmed.

The position taken by Chief Koval and Mayor Soglin is remarkable.  They have risen above pandering to the ignorant public which loves such sordid background details despite their immateriality to whether Tony Robinson needed to die.

So that means the focus has been solely on what happened in the apartment that night, about the facts giving rise to the shooting and killing of Tony Robinson?  Grow up.  As much as Koval and Soglin conducted themselves admirably, the media is so bound to the gutter that it couldn’t bear the idea of not throwing dirt on the body.

Wisconsin Circuit Court documents indicate Robinson pleaded guilty in December to an armed robbery that occurred last April.

Because the cops refused to smear Robinson, the media had to do its own dirty work and dig up whatever nastiness “court documents” might offer.  And if CNN’s smear isn’t bad enough, try ABC’s:

Inside, Kenny found Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old who had previously pleaded guilty to armed robbery charges in 2014.

They could have described Tony Robinson as “a 19-year-old who was loved by his family, who saved kittens from a tree, who had a lovely smile and joy for life, who appeared to have had an unforeseeable psychotic breakdown,” but no. Instead, they described him as a guy who was guilty of armed robbery charges.

Do you know what that means?  You probably think you do, but you don’t. Was he alone? Was he armed? Was it a gun, a knife or a boot? What did he try to rob, a bank or a gallon of milk?  There are actual answers to all these questions, but they aren’t the point. You wouldn’t know the answers from these media reports, and instead are left to impute whatever nefarious meaning to the conviction that pops into your heads.

None of it matters. None of it informs us of what happened in that apartment that caused Police Officer Matt Kenny to shoot and kill Tony Robinson. To the extent the police or mayor in other cities are tainted by their immediate resort to smearing the dead guy, Chief Koval and Mayor Soglin did the right thing here, making the deliberate choice of not smearing Tony Robinson.

So the media did it instead.

H/T Jack

8 thoughts on “Madison Police Chief Mike Koval: “I Could But I Choose Not To”

  1. Jack

    While it definitely helps that Koval is a decent human being and the MPD have greatly improved their image recently, the Madison PD don’t exactly have a sterling record when it comes to doing the right thing. One of the big reasons the Madison PD have changed their tune recently is because in just a month from now, Soglin faces an election against one Madison’s aldermen who has been campaigning for a year primarily on police accountability and body cameras.

    Ferguson, Garner, and Tamir Rice may have certainly given a wake up call to the police around the nation, but I have no doubt political pressure from an election challenger played a big part in the handling of this.

    As for the media, absolutely disgusting… Let’s see if the police choose not to comment on what the media dug up.

    1. SHG Post author

      We take the good where and as we find it. We don’t get it enough to be too picky.

      And as for Mayor Soglin’s campaign against a reform Alderman, what a wonderful thing that police reform, as opposed to tough on crime, is seen as the key to victory. Let there be such contested election campaigns in every city, town and hamlet in the nation.

      1. Jack

        Scott Resnick, the mayoral challenger, is the youngest elected councilman in a city over 200,000 people – just 28 years old and he is considered a very strong contender.

        See, not all of us millennials are leaching off our parents, living at home playing with our x-machines eating cheetos and feeling entitled to your jobs. Maybe there is some hope after all.

    2. John

      I remember when I lived in Madison electing a District Attorney promising reforms in how drug cases were handled. He won the election with flying colors (which is an indication of the political culture of Madison). After winning, our new DA-elect met with the police and current DA and afterwards immediately announced there would be no changes in drug prosecution policy. No explanation was given in the press release.

      Madison is one of the few places elected officials care about police and prosecutor misconduct. It is the only place I lived where the press actually covered law enforcement even when no big media circus cases were pending (this was due to Bill Leuders). Even then, reform was impossible.

      Koval seems to be doing the right thing and that is good. However, I will believe reform when I hear evidence there has been reform. Otherwise it is as it was: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

  2. DaveL

    I’ve read reports that Officer Kenny forced his way into the apartment after hearing a “disturbance” inside. Now, since apparently Robinson was alone in the apartment, does this mean it is the official police narrative that he was creating a “disturbance” of such magnitude, all by his lonesome in the privacy of the apartment, that it gave the officer probable cause to believe that somebody was in danger inside?

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