After a series of investigations, the Madison Police Department ultimately ruled to clear a police officer who shot and killed a city resident late last year of any charges, sparking controversy and protests within the city.
Paul Heenan, 30, died as the result of a physical confrontation with MPD officer Stephan Heimsness Nov. 9, 2012. Heimsness was responding to a 911 call of what was believed to be a burglary in progress when he encountered an intoxicated Heenan. Heimsness shot Heenan three times after Heenan reportedly attempted to grab the officer’s firearm.
MPD Chief Noble Wray said the internal investigation determined Heimsness’s use of deadly force to be reasonable and that he acted in accordance with MPD policy and training.
“[Heimsness] believed he was in danger of being disarmed and that his life was in imminent danger,” Wray said. “Heimsness determined that his only option to protect his life at the time was to use deadly force.”
However, some members of the community, particularly Heenan’s family and friends, were not satisfied with MPD’s decision to exonerate Heimsness.
Samuel Stevenson, a former Badger Herald columnist and a Heenan family friend, helped to organize a rally Jan. 12 that addressed the family’s concerns.
“Our goal was to really bring into the public discourse the serious issues we have in the way the MPD conducted their investigation,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said many people felt there was subjectivity in the police report, as well as inconsistent information that led them to believe MPD was either withholding information or did not do its job in the investigation.
At the rally, members of the community called for an independent investigation to be conducted by an unbiased third party.
According to City Attorney Michael May, however, independent reviews of the case had already been conducted. He said Wray had asked the Department of Justice to do their own review of the matter to ensure MPD was not missing anything.
Additionally, May said, Wray asked the Dane County Sheriff’s office to follow the investigation, in order to have another law enforcement agency overlook the process.
Despite this, May said he understands members of the community would like to see the process be even more independent, given the relationship between the district attorney and MPD.
Stevenson said he believes the case has done a lot of damage to the relationship between the Madison community and MPD. According to Stevenson, Heenan’s neighbor said he would never call 911 again after what happened.
“People shouldn’t have to fear for their lives from the Madison Police Department,” Stevenson said. “I think that makes the community less safe if people feel that law enforcement cannot protect them.”
Wray said MPD is still going to do everything they can to listen to the community, to improve what they do and to do everything they can to build trust.
Wray said the case does deserve full public scrutiny.
With the investigation’s conclusion, Heimsness’s administrative leave will be lifted and he will be assigned back to patrol, Wray said.