Six years ago this March, Matt Kenny, a Madison Police officer, shot and killed Sharon Irwin-Henry’s grandson in a house on Williamson Street. The killing of Tony Terrell Robinson attracted national attention, and Robinson’s name still echoes throughout Madison to this day.
“Before Terrell died, all of these people were getting killed, all these Black men were getting killed, by police officers,” Irwin-Henry told WORT, “And I sat in my house and I said, ‘Oh, that’s just too bad, but it will never happen here.’
And it did. And it happened to my family.”
In May 2015, two months after Robinson was killed, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne officially closed the investigation. Kenny faced no criminal charges for the shooting of Robinson, although the city would later pay out a $3.35 million civil settlement to his family.
It was the second time Kenny faced no criminal charges for shooting and killing someone. In 2007, Kenny killed Ronald Brandon, who had pointed a pellet gun at him, while investigating a police call.
Despite that, Kenny remains employed by the MPD to this day — as a trainer and meditation instructor.
“He’s training these officers. How can somebody who’s killed two people be training mindful meditation?” Irwin-Henry asks.
Calls for Kenny’s arrest and termination have gained steam over the past year, as last summer’s protests against police brutality forced a national reckoning with the role of the police. Chants of ‘Jail Matt Kenny’ were a frequent refrain during Madison’s protests.
Last month, Irwin-Henry started a Change.org petition to formally reopen the investigation of her grandson’s killing. The petition has gathered more than 1,200 signatures. It comes as the sixth anniversary of Robinson’s death – March 6th – is less than a month away.
But, it also comes as the statute of limitations for perjury – that’s lying under oath – is set to expire. Wisconsin has a blanket statute of limitations of six years for perjury in felony investigations — with the exception of certain homicide cases.
“Clearly, Kenny’s account of what happened was not true — It changed repeatedly,” says Greg Gelembiuk.
Gelembiuk is the founder of the Community Response Team, a local police reform and social justice group. He’s been providing support to Irwin-Henry in her case against Kenny and the MPD, and has served on city committees to reform the Department.
“I think it would be feasible to prove perjury,” he says. “The other thing that comes to mind is something like second degree reckless homicide. The statute on that runs for 15 years, so we have more time on that. But the perjury one is more pressing.”
Gelembiuk and Irwin-Henry say Ozanne’s decision not to charge Kenny was based on false testimony. They cite a forensics report on the shooting, a Dane County medical examiner’s report and police dash cam footage — all of which they argue directly contradict many of Kenny’s statements.
“His whole rationale for why he had to shoot was that he was at the top of the stairs, that Tony punched him, that he was afraid that he would fall down the stairs and potentially be knocked out, lose consciousness and that Tony could then take his gun and shoot him with it,” Gelembiuk says.
He continues: “But it is entirely clear from the dashcam video, and from the bullet forensics, that [Kenny] was on the doorway or on the stoop for all the shots. In other words — his whole claim for why he had to shoot was false.”
Gelembiuk says that isn’t the only place where Kenny’s testimony and the official reports fail to add up.
“There was his snapshot statement made that night, there was also a set of statements made during the interview for the DCI investigation and there was a further set of statements made when the lawsuit occurred and Kenny was deposed,” he says.
Even as the petition gains signatures and public pressure continues, they face an uphill battle in getting the case reopened.
Kenny was cleared by both the Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and the Madison Police Department. Speaking to Isthmus reporter Dylan Brogan last June, Interim Chief Vic Wahl said that there was “no basis under state law for disciplining him.”
In an emailed statement to WORT today, MPD spokesman Tyler Grigg wrote “The Madison Police Department respects the criminal justice process which includes the right to appeal or petition our governing bodies.”
But, Gelembiuk and Irwin-Henry express concerns about those prior investigations
For starters, District Attorneys work closely with police departments in prosecuting cases. Gelembiuk says that, historically, they’re reluctant to poison that well by prosecuting officers.
Despite vocal disapproval from the community and protesters, District Attorney Ozanne has no real incentive to change his position. He ran unopposed in the November 2020 election.
However, Gelembiuk cites a Wisconsin state statute wherein, if Ozanne does not open a new criminal complaint, Irwin-Henry can ask an independent judge to consider the case and file a new complaint.
Kenny’s case could also go before the city’s Police and Fire Commission for deliberation. But, in a June 2020 column for the Capital Times, Madison journalist Bill Lueders wrote the PFC hasn’t ruled against an officer in a citizen-brought complaint in more than half a century.
The final hurdle is the city’s new Chief of Police — Shon Barnes. In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Barnes said the investigation was closed and settled. But, Irwin-Henry is somewhat optimistic on that front.
“He can’t go in there and be antagonistic about things,” she says of Barnes. “What I did hear him say is that he had to respect the process as it sits right now. Should new evidence come up we can deal with it then.”
There’s one final recourse for the case — the city’s Police Civilian Oversight Board, established by the Madison Common Council last fall.
The board lacks the authority to fire officers, that power’s reserved for the PFC. But they can subpoena officers to provide official testimony.
However, that route presents problems as well. Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores, the board’s vice chair, says they’re still early on in the Board’s structural and development process. Actually considering and pursuing cases is likely a ways away.
But, Kilfoy-Flores, who is also a member of the Community Response Team alongside Gelembiuk, says that she personally supports re-examining the case.
“I think it’s really important that the evidence is looked at again, since more evidence has become available,” Kilfoy-Flores says. “If we’re committed to safety and equity, then we really need to take another look at this case.”
Despite those roadblocks, Irwin-Henry pushes ahead. She says, at this point, it’s grown beyond just seeking justice for her grandson.
“Two men died that needed help,” she says. “Within eighteen seconds of being in either one of those places, those people were dead. This is not just about Terrell, this is about getting Matt Kenny off our streets. This is about having a justice system that works for everybody.”
(PHOTO: Calls for Kenny’s termination and arrest saw a second wind during last summer’s protests against police brutality / JONAH CHESTER / Aug. 29, 2020)