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Paul Heenan's family to file lawsuit against city, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray and Officer Stephen Heimsness
Complaint calls 2012 shooting death a "murder"
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Paul Heenan (left) was shot and killed by Madison Police Officer Stephen Heimsness (right) on Nov. 9, 2012.
Credit:Courtesty of the Heenan family, Madison Police Department

Madison attorney Jeff Scott Olson will file a federal lawsuit today against the city of Madison and others over the death of Paul Heenan, the musician who was shot and killed by Madison police officer Stephen Heimsness during an altercation in November 2012.

In his complaint, to be filed on behalf of Heenan's estate in the United States District Court for the western district of Wisconsin, Olson calls the police investigation into Heenan's shooting a "sham." The complaint also refers to the shooting as a "murder." Defendants include retiring Police Chief Noble Wray and Heimsness in addition to the city of Madison.

The lawsuit seeks damages "and other appropriate relief for the death of Paul Heenan arising from the deprivation of rights secured to him by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States."

The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights governs police action and protects citizens against, among other things, excessive force, says Olson. The 14th Amendment makes the Bill of Rights applicable to state and local government employees.

Madison City Attorney Michael May says he has not seen a copy of the complaint and therefore could not comment.

Heimsness shot and killed Heenan, who was unarmed and inebriated at the time, on Nov. 9. Heenan had mistakenly entered a neighbor's home on South Baldwin Street that evening, and Heimsness arrived at the scene to find him struggling with the neighbor on the lawn. Heimsness claims Heenan lunged for his gun before Heimsness shot him.

The police department exonerated Heimsness of the shooting death of Heenan, but the probe uncovered incidents in which the veteran police officer was alleged to have violated department policies. Wray, who has since announced he would retire in September, filed a complaint June 21 with the Police and Fire Commission seeking Heimsness' termination, but withdrew the complaint when Heimsness resigned 10 days later.

The Police and Fire Commission, however, is continuing to review a complaint filed by Heenan's friends, Amelia and Nathan Royko Maurer, who say Heenan's death was avoidable.

Olson says he has been involved in two previous damage claims (including a 2006 incident on State Street) against Heimsness arising from instances of excessive force. And yet, he says, "Even I, with all my prior knowledge, was astounded by the track record of complaints he had amassed that had been officially swept under the rug by the city."

Olson says these incidents, detailed in the complaint he filed today, will help prove municipal liability.

"There is an extensive track record of [the city] ignoring repeated indications that Officer Heimsness was a dangerous officer," he says. "We think we can prove 'custom or policy' on the part of the city."

The complaint contains a blistering condemnation of the city's investigation into Heenan's death:

Officer Heimsness's dangerous, reckless behavior and unreasonable use of deadly force, was so warmly accepted by Chief Wray that it amounts to a statement that this is the way things are done and have been done in the City of Madison, or in other words, that it is the City’s official policy. The City and Chief Wray may have conducted a sham investigation in order to maintain willful blindness to Officer Heimsness's misconduct because they were so eager to approvingly rubberstamp his conduct. Chief Wray's reaction to so gross an abuse of the use of deadly force is a statement of the City's policymaker that proves the preexisting disposition and policy, and is a statement of the official policy of the City of Madison. If Officer Heimsness's actions were consistent with MPD policy, then MPD policy is unconstitutional.

Read the full complaint.

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