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Monday, September 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  Fair
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No need for an external review of Paul Heenan shooting, Madison police tell community members
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Many questions still remain for concerned citizens as to why the choices made by Heimsness could be deemed acceptable.
Credit:Elliot Hughes

The controversial fatal shooting by a Madison police officer got a public airing Tuesday night when law enforcement officials met with concerned community members over the Nov. 9 incident that left local musician Paul Heenan dead.

Despite repeated calls from Heenan's family and friends for an independent investigation of the incident, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray told the audience at Bethany Evangelical Free Church that he did not think one was necessary.

Wray said Officer Stephen Heimsness, the policeman who shot Heenan, 30, will no longer patrol South Baldwin Street, where the incident occurred. He added the department is still evaluating how to best transition Heimsness back into duty.

More than 100 people lined the benches of the church for the nearly three hour question-and-answer session with a panel of 13 people that included Wray, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, six other law enforcement officials and five community members.

According to police, on Nov. 9, Heimsness responded to a burglary in progress on South Baldwin Street in the early morning hours. At the scene, Heimsness found Heenan struggling with an individual, drew his firearm and ordered Heenan to stop.

Heenan then engaged in a physical confrontation with the officer and, as Heimsness understood it, tried to grab the gun. Heimsness then fired three shots, killing Heenan. Later, it was learned that Heenan accidentally entered his neighbor's house and had a .208 blood alcohol content.

Ozanne and the MPD have since concluded Heimsness did not violate any law or police protocol. But Heenan's family and others continue to call for an independent investigation and an end to Heimsness' law enforcement career.

With few exceptions, speakers remained calm and respectful Tuesday. The audience, largely quiet, applauded on several occasions and some reacted angrily in one specific moment when Ozanne asked for more time to speak after surpassing his response limit.

Several times, discussion facilitator Eileen Harrington asked the room to pause in order to ensure things didn't get too heated.

"I don't see a reason for an external review"
Though pressed several times throughout the discussion, Wray stuck to his belief that an independent review of the incident is not necessary. He noted the incident was reviewed by the District Attorney, the Department of Justice and said the police department's investigation was "shadowed" by the Dane County Sheriff's Office.

"I thought the investigation was fair, I thought it was impartial," Wray said.

Ozanne said he never read a report from the sheriff's office, but indicated that he relied heavily on the account given by Kevin O'Malley, the neighbor caught in the struggle with Heenan when police arrived, who provided a valuable third-party perspective. Ozanne, too, said he did not see the need for an inquest in this case.

That left many audience members unsatisfied at the conclusion of the meeting.

"This will always have the appearance of bias and the potential for bias if things don't change," Amelia Royko Maurer, a panelist and friend of Heenan's, said in an interview.

After the meeting, Wray said the department is still several weeks away from releasing a thousand-page report of the investigation.

Lingering questions
Many questions still remain for concerned citizens as to why the choices made by Heimsness could be deemed acceptable.

More than once, law enforcement officials were asked to explain why it was appropriate for Heimsness to draw his gun -- instead of another less deadly weapon -- as he approached Heenan struggling with O'Malley.

Officer Timothy Patton and Wray explained a call concerning a burglary in progress is considered a "high risk" situation, much like when an officer pulls over the driver of a stolen car, and that alone gives the officer permission to grab his firearm.

"He does not have to have deadly force in front of him to draw the gun out of the holster," Patton said.

Why didn't Heimsness wait for back-up before approaching Heenan and O'Malley?

Lt. Dan Olivas, who wrote the police department's internal report, said the department would expect the officer to take action immediately in the interest of protecting the homeowner from the potential burglary suspect.

At a Jan. 9 press conference, police officials explained why it was reasonable for Heimsness, already with his gun drawn, to not switch to a Taser when confronted by Heenan. The officials explained that because Heimsness did not know if Heenan was armed, the officer could not risk using the time to switch weapons.

One citizen asked why it is acceptable for an officer to assume he is at "maximum risk" and then to eliminate that risk by discharging his gun.

"It's at the heart of the matter of why we are here," Wray answered.

"The deadly force situation that was produced that night had to do with Paul Heenan coming directly at an officer, with a gun in his hand and a struggle ensued."

But Wray said these situations are rare.

"In my 29 years of policing, it is not common for an officer to be in full military uniform, to have his gun out, giving commands and the person coming in his direction."

What's next
At the end of the discussion, several people indicated there would be more public gatherings in the future. Ald. Marsha Rummel (District 6) announced to the room that those meetings would have the mission of performing a "restorative justice process."

Three friends of Heenan -- Cliff Hammer, Kevin Pellerin and Josh Peterson -- also said they hope to continue the social media campaign and organize a two-day music festival in the spring to honor Heenan, who was active in the local scene.

"There's happy stuff on the horizon, too," Hammer said.


[Editor's note: This article was corrected to reflect the correct spelling of Stephen Heimsness' name.]

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