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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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Protesters call for an independent probe into police shooting death of Paul Heenan
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About 200 people gathered in front of the City-County Building for the rally.
Credit:Elliot Hughes

Up to 200 people gathered outside Madison's City-County Building Saturday to protest the findings of a police department internal investigation that cleared an officer in the shooting death of local musician Paul Heenan.

"It is with great remorse and anger that we gather here today to speak out against a process that found one person, Paul Heenan, dead at the age of 30, and another, Officer Stephen Heimsness, exonerated, totally, of any wrongdoing," said Sam Stevenson, a friend of the Heenan family and an organizer of the event.

In a speech lasting approximately 11 minutes, Stevenson criticized the internal review process conducted by the MPD, accused the police of a lack of transparency and called for an outside investigation. Stevenson also condemned the police for excusing certain actions taken by Heimsness in the build-up to the fatal shooting.

Heenan died in the early hours of Nov. 9, when police responded to a report of a burglary in process on Baldwin Street. Upon arriving, Heimsness found Heenan in a physical struggle with a neighbor. According to police, Heenan did not respond to the officer's commands to get down, and began another physical altercation with Heimsness that resulted in the shooting.

Police said Heimsness thought Heenan tried to grab the officer's gun and believed that his life was in danger.

According to police, Heimsness did not hear the neighbor's shouts that he knew Heenan. It was later learned that Heenan mistakenly entered his neighbor's home. Toxicology reports showed he had a blood alcohol content of .208, more than twice the limit for driving.

Ald. Marsha Rummel (District 6) spoke briefly at the rally, noting that she would conduct meetings for people to discuss the incident.

After nearly a half hour of speeches, much of the crowd broke up while a smaller cadre went to march down State Street with a banner that read, "Stop police violence."

Stevenson noted during his speech that Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, within three days of the shooting, had called the shooting "objectively reasonable." Stevenson said this was an example of internal bias. That statement from Wray came after interviews with Kevin O'Malley, the neighbor, and another officer, Stacy Troumbly, who were both present.

Stevenson also questioned Heimsness' failure to verbally identify himself as a police officer and his decision to approach the situation with a gun drawn rather than a Taser.

In a press conference Wednesday, police said it would have been ideal for Heimsness to identify himself as an officer, but ultimately his uniform would be enough.

In regard to drawing a gun rather than a Taser, Sgt. Kimba Tieu said, "To start at a lower level of force where we cannot respond effectively puts the officer at a disadvantage."

Stevenson said he wants to see an independent review of the shooting performed either by citizens or a professional third-party. He said he would also like any future cases involving "lethal or excessive force" by police officers to be reviewed in this manner.

In an interview after his speech, Stevenson said he would begin lobbying public officials to meet these demands. Mayor Paul Soglin has already expressed interest in exploring options for another investigation, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

At the news conference Wednesday, Wray said several times that he welcomes public scrutiny and that the police department was "still in the process of looking at other agencies and how we can do that check and balance."

But as of Saturday, Stevenson did not have much faith in those words.

"I don't see that statement as being completely credible," he said. "I think it was fairly diplomatic. I would like to believe him. Until we actually see some substantive action from the police chief, I really can't believe he's earnest in that offer."

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