Community members met Tuesday to address the ethical controversies associated with the officer-involved shooting of a Madison man last November.
Paul Heenan, 30, died as the result of a confrontation with Madison Police Department Officer Stephan Heimsness Nov. 9, according to a MPD statement. According to the statement, Heimsness was responding to a call regarding a burglary in progress after an intoxicated Heenan tried to enter the wrong house. After an investigation, MPD decided to exonerate Heimsness, stating the officer shot Heenan after believing himself to be in danger of being disarmed, the statement said.
In a statement from Jan. 24, Ald. Marsha Rummel, District 6, explained the purpose of the forum was to provide an opportunity for neighborhood residents to share concerns and ask questions regarding the investigative process and the use of deadly force.
The meeting consisted of a panel of representatives from the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, MPD and members of the community, including Heenan’s friends and neighbors. The panel answered questions both from the audience and other panelists.
Amelia Royko Maurer, a friend of Heenan and one of the community representatives on the panel, asked MPD why deadly force was justified in the incident when it appeared Heenan did not pose any life-threatening danger to those around him.
According to MPD Lt. Dan Olidas, it is important to take into consideration that Heenan was wearing a coat. Due to the coat, Heimsness could not make the assumption Heenan did not have a weapon concealed on his person, he said.
“Deadly force was found to be justified to prevent the officer from being disarmed,” Olidas reiterated.
Neighbor and community representative on the panel Rob Kennedy inquired whether any MPD policies and procedures would change in light of the incident.
MPD Police Chief Noble Wray explained the department is currently in the process of reviewing the policies and procedures related to the incident. The department will examine policies and procedures as relating to internal affairs, use of force and how information is conveyed from the 911 dispatchers to the police officers, he said.
Community panelists expressed the desire for an independent review of the investigation and the incident as a whole.
“I am not certain what [the community] believes an independent investigation will show,” District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said. “I don’t believe there is any other information we have.”
Community members also expressed concern with the decision of the MPD to allow Heimsness back onto the street as an officer.
According to Wray, Heimsness will no longer be working in the neighborhood where the incident occurred.
Of the situation as a whole, Wray said it was not common for a suspect to approach an officer in full uniform giving commands. The deadly force situation produced that night was the result of Heenan approaching Heimsness, he said.
“This was the perfect storm of everything that could go wrong with an officer-involved shooting,” Wray said.
Community representative Ricky Hedgwood said the neighbor who initially reported what he believed was a burglary in progress said he would not feel comfortable calling the police again.
In response, Wray explained the purpose of the meeting was to restore confidence in Madison residents of the ability of the MPD to keep them safe.
Eileen Harrington, facilitator of the meeting, said the meeting was sure to be the first of many actions toward the restoration of trust between MPD and the community.