Bittersweet Settlement

    Two years ago today, Andrea Irwin's son was killed by the Madison Police Department. "I’ve gotten to the point where every day I’ve got this mindset that I’m trying to be better tomorrow than I am today," she says.

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    Tony Terrell Robinson’s life ended two years ago today, from multiple gunshot wounds to the head, torso and right upper extremity on Williamson Street on Madison’s near east side. What really exactly happened that night, only Madison Police Department Officer Matthew Kenny will ever know. Recently, attorneys from the Chicago firm Loevy and Loevy announced that the insurance company for the City of Madison had settled the civil rights lawsuit with Robinson’s family, which was due to go to trial on Feb. 27, for a state record $3.35 million.

    “It’s bittersweet. We wanted to go to trial. I was ready for it,” Andrea Irwin, Tony Robinson’s mother, tells Madison365. “My lawyers started to tell me about some of the things I would have to go to through the trial … sitting through 40 hours of autopsy photos and videos and things that we’ve never seen.

    “I still want the facts to be out there, and our lawyers are helping us do that. I’m disappointed that it didn’t happen … but at the end of the day, it has been so stressful with all of these depositions,” she adds. “I’m happy that that part is done and I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

    The reason that many have given for the settling – the largest settlement in the history of Wisconsin, mind you – is because the city’s insurance company didn’t want to take a chance on a jury. Irwin doesn’t buy that at all. “They are saying that because they know that there are a slew of people who will buy that … as little sense as it makes,” Irwin says. “They didn’t want to go to trial. They are the ones that came to us with the offers. We turned it down for two straight days.

    Sharon Irwin, the grandmother of Tony Robinson, Jr, comforts Tony's younger brother as attorneys recount the circumstances of his death at a recent press conference.
    Sharon Irwin, the grandmother of Tony Robinson, Jr, comforts Tony’s younger brother as attorneys recount the circumstances of his death at a recent press conference.

    “They saw what my lawyers had,” she adds.

    The family’s attorneys say evidence showed Officer Matt Kenny’s account was false and were prepared with evidence to show dozens and dozens of facts. The lawyers also noted that they had all of this despite the fact that Kenny was allowed to review the audio and video evidence before being questioned, something that is allowed in officer-involved shooting cases but no other criminal cases.

    “You can read a lot about this in the summary justice. Some of their stuff makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The most important thing for us was to get the truth out and we will be doing that soon. We don’t have a non-disclosure settlement. I would never, ever do that. This is all about getting the truth out there,” Irwin says. “We will do that.”

    Irwin says that they are currently developing a website dedicated to her son where they will release all of that information.

    “That’ll be a good thing and that will be one of the major things that will help,” she says. “The lawyers did a lot of work over the past year and a half and we need people to see that.”

    Irwin and I get into a side conversation about how many times a young black man is killed in the United States by police with no deep investigation. That would have been Tony Robinson’s fate had the family not pursued it further.

    “The investigation that the police department did … how did they come up with all of the same information that we did and say it was justified?” she asks. “There’s no way in hell. They did their investigation in less than a month. We’ve been doing our investigation for two years and we’re still coming up with information. I don’t understand how they did theirs so quickly.”

    Initially, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne declined to bring charges against Officer Kenny, and an internal Madison Police Department investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. Irwin’s lawyers are planning on giving Ozanne all of the evidence they have learned and gathered over the past year and a half and ask him to re-examine the case. “We’ll see what he says,” Irwin says. “We’re also going to be talking with the federal government and showing them all of the evidence, too, and asking them to take a look. At least, they are willing to sit down and take a look. There are some things to look forward to.”

    In the meantime, Irwin has been getting mercilessly pounded on social media. Much of the media coverage and social media reaction to this record settlement quickly focused away from Officer Kenney and onto Irwin and her family, making them out to be the bad guys. Much like when her son was first killed, Irwin is getting constantly harassed. But even worse this time.

    “This time it’s way different,” she says. “It’s the same kind of stuff but even more hateful now. It’s ten times worse than it was. I didn’t expect people to be this bad. They are beyond cruel.

    Anonymous Internet trolls taunt Andrea Irwin on social media still two years after the death of her son. This personal message sent directly to Irwin alludes towards her son's experimenting with hallucinogenic mushrooms on the day of his death.
    Anonymous Internet trolls taunt Andrea Irwin on social media still two years after the death of her son. This personal message sent directly to Irwin alludes towards her son’s experimenting with hallucinogenic mushrooms on the day of his death.

    “I don’t know any of you people. You have no idea who I am,” she adds, talking about the personal attacks she fends off every day. “It makes me so disappointed in humanity.’

    Despite not knowing him, Irwin says, they all seem to be experts on who her son was and on all of the details on his case. “Unfortunately, no matter what type of evidence you show people, they are just going to go with what they think and that’s the way it’s going to be … you can’t change their minds,” Irwin says.

    But make no mistake about it: Irwin has seen a good share of support, too, right? “Oh, God, yes. Thankfully. For every one person that is hateful and mean, there are three people who are supportive and caring,” she says. “That’s something that is super-helpful.
    P_TonyRobinson03
    “And even if a person doesn’t agree with me, I’m OK as long as they do it in a respectful manner,” she adds. “I’m not here to disrespect anybody and I would appreciate the same.”

    Does Irwin believe that her son’s death will make a change in policing that could spare somebody’s else’s son someday?

    “I absolutely hope so. I mean they’ve already changed their policies for back-up and procedures and stuff. That’s a step. My hope that something like this never happens again in the way that it happened. Whatever I can do,” she says. “And even how we were treated following [her son’s death] … that needs to never happen again. The police treated our family, how the City treated our family … the hospital. They were in a position to not show so much negativity and immediate bias towards one side. Especially, for me, who just lost somebody so dear to me. At least have a little sympathy for that fact, if nothing else. And that’s something we weren’t given.

    “But this is a movement that is something way bigger than my son,” she adds. “It’s a movement that’s going to go on whether we are involved or not.”

    Andrea Irwin with her two children and baby nephew (Photo by Leslie Amsterdam Peterson)
    Andrea Irwin with her two children and baby nephew
    (Photo by Leslie Amsterdam Peterson)

    As for Irwin’s future, she says she wants to go back to working with kids like she once did.

    “I’ve always worked with youth and troubled kids and I want to continue to work with them,” Irwin says. “Our youth are our future and if we invest in these kids and help them turn their lives around and be the best people they can be, it gives us a positive future … because they are our future.”

    Irwin has talked with friends about starting a support group for people and families who have lost loved ones to violence. “Especially mothers, but not just mothers … kids, families,” she says. “I worry about my own kids and I think that it would be very helpful to have a group like this with peers where they would get that support.”

    She is in the process of establishing her non-profit called “Golden Chances.” “I’m trying to figure out all of the things that I want to do with Golden Chances. I’m not trying to overwhelm myself right now. There’s a lot that I want to do,” Irwin says. “I do what to be an agent for change and to be able to help in a positive way. You are a product of your environment and we can make where we live better. There’s always room for improvement and learning things. I’m always focused on how much more I can improve my life and the environment around me.”

    Irwin knows that she has to work on herself first. She goes through good and bad patches, sometimes not sleeping much at all. It gets worse around her son’s birthday, holidays, and the anniversary of her son’s death, which is today.

    “I went through a rough patch around my son’s birthday. That was so hard. And then the holidays came right after that. But I’ve gotten to the point where every day I’ve got this mindset that I’m trying to be better tomorrow than I am today,” Irwin says. “We’re going to focus on today and try not to worry about all of these things going on tomorrow. I’m trying to have an open mind and look at things from a realistic point of view rather than an emotional. I’m patient in ways I wasn’t before. I think I’m starting to get to a positive place. I’m trying to surround myself with positive people, too.”

    Tony Terrell Robinson Jr.
    Tony Terrell Robinson Jr.

    Because there was a period of time when Irwin wouldn’t even get out of bed at all. “My friends helped me out of my funk. Now, I feel like I’m heading to a good place,” she says. “It’s a place I can be proud of where I’m at and what I’m doing with myself. I think that’s a good thing.”

    How does she want people to remember her Tony Terrell?

    “Just for who he was. He wasn’t an angel, but he wasn’t this thug. I want them to remember him for the 19-year-old kid that he was – nothing more, nothing less,” Irwin says. “If you don’t know him, by all means, take the time to sit down with me – or just about anybody who knew him. Don’t judge people until you’ve opened that book. The cover doesn’t tell the whole story.

    “He really had great potential. I hope people will remember how much he cared about people and he wanted people to care about him. He was a good friend … the kind of person you want your friends to be. Somebody who will be there for you no matter what time and no matter what the situation is,” Irwin adds. “I don’t want him to be remembered for the mistakes he made because everybody makes mistakes. We’re all human. Remember him for the good, positives things he did. That’s the kid he was.”

    Written by David Dahmer

    David Dahmer

    A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.

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