19-year-old Tony Robinson was not the first person Officer Matt Kenny shot and killed. Kenny shot suicidal Ronald Brandon in July, 2007 while Brandon held a toy pellet gun. During the two months prior to the 2007 shooting, Matt Kenny was under ‘review’ for a weapons violation. He had left his off-duty handgun in a men’s bathroom at a café in Maple Bluff. The café staff called the local police who came and confiscated the weapon; Kenny had to retrieve his weapon directly from Maple Bluff police. In the summer of 2007, the weapons violation was an open ‘case’ and it wasn’t clear if Kenny would be suspended, terminated, or given another form of discipline.
On Friday, July 15, 2007, while the weapons violation case was still pending, Kenny shot and killed Ronald Brandon who was holding an unloaded toy pellet gun on his front porch. Kenny shot Brandon twice in the head with a high-powered rifle while Brandon’s ex-wife watched from inside; she was frantically talking to 911 dispatch to assure them the gun was only a toy. At the time of the shooting, Kenny was still under review for his weapons violation. Because Brandon was killed, Kenny was automatically and immediately placed under review for a fatal shooting. That means for a few days Kenny would be under two separate reviews—one for a weapons violation, the other for killing an unarmed man.
Chief Noble Wray officially closed the weapons violation with a letter of reprimand dated July 18, 2007—the Monday following Kenny’s first fatal shooting. It is unclear what the rationale was for wanting to close Kenny’s first professional conduct review at the same time a second conduct review case was opened. I asked Noble Wray in an email if there was a legal or procedural reason for not leaving both open or if it was just ‘tidying up’ personnel issues? He replied by saying he would not like to comment.
The Madison Police department completed their review of Kenny’s fatal shooting and eventually decided to award him a Medal of Valor, the highest award given to an officer. At this point, I would love to share the details of why Officer Kenny received such an esteemed award, but all the nomination papers, committee proceedings and correspondence related to this award are missing. The public information officer Lt. Anthony Bitterman explained in a 2015 email that the records were likely destroyed because of their age. I find that highly suspicious. Because Kenny was not the only officer to receive a “meritorious conduct” award at the 2008 award ceremony, I immediately requested the nomination and recommendation records supporting the awards given to officers Koval, York, and Statz at the same time Kenny received his Medal of Valor. After a few weeks, I was offered a fairly voluminous records fulfillment. Although they are just as old as Kenny’s records would have been, the records I obtained for lesser but honorable “meritorious conduct” awards offer glowing nominations, recommendations, letters of gratitude and a clear case for why these officers should and would receive distinction. No records are available to support the highest honor bestowed upon Matt Kenny.
The following is an excerpt from Lt. Bitterman of MPD:
“Many records are not kept indefinitely, and are destroyed on a schedule. As the incident and Officer Kenny’s nomination/award occurred more than seven years ago, it is possible that some of the records you seek have been destroyed/disposed of.”
–September 29, 2015
The process for receiving a medal of valor is rigorous and–as it should be–long and collaborative.To be considered, an officer has to be officially nominated by a person in the public or department. Anyone, however, can nominate an officer to receive a meritorious conduct award. Once nominated, the recommendation moves to a nomination committee that must discuss and vote whether or not to award an officer such a distinction. Ultimately the decision rests with the Chief. Here is a current procedural document from Madison Police: Meritorious Conduct Awards, MPD
Sergeant Susan Armagost, Kenny’s direct supervisor, provided a glowing anecdotal recommendation for Kenny after he fatally shot Ronald Brandon. Although she was not present on the scene during the shooting, Sgt. Armagost’s praise is the only documented accolade that exists for Officer Kenny’s actions in July, 2007. Sgt. Armagost states that Officer Diane Nachtigal, who was the first on the scene, told dispatch that Ronald Brandon was pointing a gun at her, “but because of terrain and tactical considerations, (Nachtigal) was unable to fire her weapon.” She goes on to state, “Officer Matthew Kenny was arriving and heard Nachtigal indicating the suspect had a weapon pointed at her direction. Exiting his squad Officer Kenny was able to charge up his rifle, come up on a target, verbally challenge the suspect and, when the suspect turned the weapon in his direction, fire, instantly disabling the suspect and eliminating the threat to Officer Nachtigal…”. I found Sergeant Armagost’s praise in the award ceremony program from 2008; there is no pre-ceremony record of Kenny’s Medal of Valor.
Much of Kenny’s heroism and bravery (required for the Medal of Valor) rests on the threat to Nachtigal, the first officer on the scene. During the investigation that followed, Nachtigal told the investigator that when Kenny arrived and exited his vehicle, the barrel of Ronald’s pellet gun was pointed “across the street, not directly at me”. In another version of the same question, she told the investigator the “gun was not pointed directly at me.” The other officer on the scene during the shooting was Capitol Police Officer Calhoun. He told the investigator that he “advised Kenny to take cover” and that Ronald Brandon was “pointing the gun at his own head” when Kenny arrived. Both Calhoun and Nachtigal stated that Ronald Brandon turned and pointed his unloaded gun at Kenny when Kenny charged Brandon with his rifle. During the extensive forensic interviews that made up the bulk of the investigators’ fatal shooting investigation, neither Calhoun nor Nachtigal suggest Kenny acted with heroism and bravery. Both officers repeatedly state they were taking proper cover behind their vehicles and talking to Brandon when Kenny surprised them by breaking cover from his vehicle and charging at Brandon.
My investigation leads me to two conclusions: 1. Kenny’s medal of valor was awarded without the rigorous test required of the highest award given by the department and 2. On the day of the shooting, Kenny acted without regard to his supporting officers and, in a pattern that is hauntingly familiar to the day he killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson, Officer Kenny acted outside his training protocol in a series of impulsive decisions that led to a death of an unarmed man. Like Tony, Ronald Brandon was in need of assistance. Had Kenny arrived and been the one to talk Brandon down or disarm him and get him the help he needed, perhaps Kenny would be deserving of an esteemed award. As it stands now, Kenny is the officer who shot and killed two unarmed individuals who were in clear need of help.