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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 14.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Over the course of his career with the Madison Police Department, Stephen Heimsness received commendations as well as complaints
This photo of Heimsness accompanied the lengthy investigation of the Paul Heenan shooting.
This photo of Heimsness accompanied the lengthy investigation of the Paul Heenan shooting.
Credit:Madison Police Department

About 44 hours after fatally shooting Paul Heenan, Madison Police officer Stephen Heimsness broke down in tears as he recounted the events that transpired Nov. 9 on South Baldwin Street to investigators, according to recently released police reports. While crying, Heimsness said he felt "pissed" after firing three times into Heenan because "the guy made me shoot him."

The nearly 1,000-page report, released Friday by Madison police, paints a more complete portrait of Heimsness -- whom some in the community hope never returns to patrol -- than has been available before. Heimsness has not talked to the media since the shooting incident.

The report shows that while Heimsness has been the subject of several other complaints during his 15 years with the police department, he has also been recognized a number of times for his work in the field.

Heimsness responded to a burglary in progress call in the early morning of Nov. 9, where he found the homeowner grappling with Heenan, 30, outside the house. Heimsness drew his gun and ordered both to stop, but Heenan advanced onto the officer and began a physical confrontation.

Believing Heenan was trying to grab his gun, Heimsness eventually pushed Heenan away and fired three times. It was later learned that Heenan was intoxicated and had accidentally entered his neighbor's home.

According to the police report, 12 complaints have been lodged against Heimsness over the course of his career, seven of which involved allegations of an excessive use of force. Of these, four resulted in a "no finding," while one was not sustained and one was sustained. Heimsness was exonerated for the seventh.

The report did not provide details of those complaints, save for two, which are already well known. The lone sustained complaint concerns a 2001 incident where Heimsness shot out the wheels of a fleeing vehicle. The not sustained complaint relates to a 2006 incident when Heimsness injured a man during an arrest; that prompted a $27,000 settlement paid by the city of Madison.

The only other complaint against Heimsness to be sustained was an "insulting, defamatory or obscene language" allegation in 2009. He was also accused of "overbearing, oppressive or tyrannical conduct" in 2002, but that went unfounded.

Apart from these 12 charges, Heimsness is also currently being investigated for three additional complaints that Madison Police Chief Noble Wray described in February as "troubling." None of these involve excessive use of force allegations and all occurred before the Nov. 9 shooting.

Heimsness will remain on administrative leave until all three investigations conclude, Wray said. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice is also reviewing the case.

Bright spots

Heimsness' career has also had its high points. He's been recognized multiple times for good work in tense situations involving suicidal individuals, uncooperative suspects and the mentally ill, among others.

As recently as June 2012, police congratulated Heimsness and another officer for the way they subdued an aggressive suspect after responding to a battery complaint.

"Nice work in a difficult situation," Wray wrote on the recognition form.

When Heimsness met with investigators on the evening of Nov. 10, he cried at least two different times as he described the Heenan shooting. He said he drew his gun because the call he was responding to -- a burglary in progress -- is a high-risk situation.

He said Heenan's eyes were "locked" onto Heimsness' gun as the two struggled with each other.

Heenan's history

More information on the shooting victim was also revealed in the report, which said Heenan had been in the process of a divorce. His parents, who live in Oregon, Wisconsin, told investigators their son moved to Madison from New York City in order to "get some order back in his life" after abusing alcohol and drugs.

His wife, meanwhile, moved on to Portland, Oregon, according to the report. Friends of Heenan said he struggled with the divorce and that Heenan himself worried if he was slipping into alcoholism.

Many of those close to Heenan also described him as gentle and an optimist who enjoyed helping people, according to the report.

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