Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker spoke with the mother of an unarmed 19-year-old man killed by a police officer in Madison last week and met with activists who have been at the center of demonstrations that have gained national attention, local leaders said.
Walker, one of several contenders in a crowded field of expected Republican presidential candidates, spoke on the phone with the mother of Tony Robinson, who was gunned down by Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny during a confrontation March 6, according to Michael Johnson, chief executive and president of the Boys & Girls Club in Dane County.
Johnson said Walker also met with him for about 30 minutes to discuss the shooting, high unemployment among blacks in the state and educational programs for young people in challenged communities.
“[Walker] did say he was grieving for the mother, that he had a 19-year-old son and he couldn’t imagine something like that happening to his child," said Johnson, who had requested the Wednesday meeting.
Robinson was killed after police responded to a call that a man had "battered someone" and had been "out in traffic," according to Madison Police Chief Mike Koval. Kenny found Robinson inside an apartment; Koval has said that during a scuffle, Robinson struck Kenny in the head.
Robinson later died of gunshot wounds. Police have not said how many shots were fired. The incident is being reviewed by the state Division of Criminal Investigation.
Kenny had been involved in a fatal shooting in 2007, but investigators determined that the victim had set out to commit "suicide by cop."
Johnson, who has met with Robinson's family several times since the shooting, declined to comment on what Walker and Robinson's mother discussed Wednesday out of respect for the family's privacy. He did not know the family prior to the shooting.
Calls and emails to a Walker spokeswoman were not immediately returned. Johnson said he reached out to the governor after days of peaceful protests, including a surge that saw nearly 2,000 college- and high-school-age students descend on the statehouse Monday.
“I think our community has responded really, really well to this unfortunate situation," Johnson said. "When I saw all those kids marching in the rally, I saw kids crying. I saw kids hurt. I’ve been getting letters from parents. I feel like they’ve been looking for answers and no one has been giving them answers.”
Johnson described Walker as very attentive during the meeting, and said the governor allowed him to speak uninterrupted for nearly 15 minutes. Walker asked him to keep his chief of staff updated on the situation in Madison, Johnson said.
Johnson, a former vice president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People in St. Louis, said he wanted to foster cooperation and conversation in Madison in the wake of Robinson's death. Johnson traveled to Ferguson, Mo., last summer after Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. He said police and government officials in Madison had been more receptive to reform than their Ferguson counterparts.
“You don’t see our police officers with riot gear. You don’t see our police officers with German shepherds. You don’t see our people looting," he said. "You see how the family is responding. It’s just a totally different environment. What our kids and our community are doing is just speaking up.”
Walker had discussed the shooting with Wisconsin Atty. Gen. Brad Schimel, but Johnson said the governor did not offer specifics about their conversation. In a statement released Monday, Schimel said his office was reviewing the shooting but would defer to the Dane County district attorney's office to determine whether criminal charges were appropriate.
Few, if any, arrests or injuries have been reported as thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in the week since Robinson's death. Koval, the police chief, apologized to Robinson's family in a blog post published Monday.
Robinson's killing was one of several involving police and unarmed black men in the last week. Shootings in Colorado and Georgia also have led to protests. And in Ferguson, tensions were exacerbated early Thursday morning when two police officers were seriously wounded by gunfire during a demonstration outside the police department's headquarters. Both officers are expected to recover.
Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news