If you've been following the controversy over the death of Paul Heenan, chances are you've heard of Amelia and Nathan Royko Maurer. Heenan was living with the married couple when he was shot and killed by Madison Police Officer Stephen Heimsness on Nov. 9.
Although the Madison Police Department, District Attorney's Office and state Department of Justice have all exonerated the police officer in separate reviews, the Royko Maurers still believe that Heenan's death could have been avoided. And they're determined to spread the word.
In early May a camera crew followed the two as they delivered a petition with more 100,000 signatures to police headquarters downtown. The document asks that Heimsness be permanently removed from patrol and that the department review its use-of-force policy. The couple have written pieces for the Wisconsin State Journal and Capital Times, and Amelia made her third appearance on WORT-FM in April. They also helped organize a candlelight vigil in front of the City-County Building to mark the five-month anniversary of the shooting.
A memorial concert, Paulie Fest, is also scheduled for the weekend of May 31, although the Royko Maurers did not have a hand in the planning.
They have recruited support through Internet campaigns, met with elected officials and law enforcement administrators, organized a community meeting, and are now circulating a new petition calling for Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne to order an inquest into the case.
"I'm not convinced they sleep," Cliff Hammer, a friend of Heenan's, says of the Royko Maurers.
Forced to push
Heenan, 30, accidentally entered a neighbor's house in the early morning hours of Nov. 9. Heimsness responded to a burglary-in-progress call and found Heenan outside struggling with the homeowner.
With Heimsness' gun already drawn, Heenan grappled with the officer, who then fired three shots. It was later discovered that Heenan was intoxicated at the time.
Amelia says she and her husband have little choice but to continue to fight for their friend. "I don't want to be doing it," she says on a recent sunny weekday on her porch. "We're being forced into this situation. Everyone has a podium but us, so we're forced to continue pushing."
Amelia, 39, and Nathan, 40, have been married for almost eight years. Both have dark hair with gray strands here and there. Amelia, a musician, home-schools their daughter, who just turned 7, while Nathan works in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Division of Information Technology.
They recently moved into their South Baldwin Street home after living in Evansville for eight years. They had an extra bedroom, so Amelia offered it to Heenan - also a musician, whom she met in 2001 - who had recently moved back to Madison from New York City.
"Paulie was your go-to guy for lending a helping hand or repairing broken stuff: your car, your computer, your heart," the couple wrote in an open letter when they posted their first petition on change.org.
"It was a wonderful arrangement," Amelia says. "He was adapting to our lifestyle and was contributing in a really sweet way."
The couple are motivated not just because they lost a friend. Amelia says she doesn't want to watch her hometown police department "cowardly turn its back and run from its own failure."
It's not easy for the Royko Maurers to catalog their concerns. They have too many.
But some stand out. They say there was plenty of past evidence of aggressive behavior on Heimsness' part, and they believe his exoneration for the Heenan shooting indicates a lack of accountability. Since he was cleared in the shooting, three other incidents involving Heimsness have come to light and are being investigated. Madison Police Chief Noble Wray has characterized them as "troubling."
The couple also take issue with Heimsness' choice to draw his firearm rather than use the less-lethal Taser; his failure to announce himself as an officer; and his decision not to wait for backup. They also believe the police investigation and subsequent reviews by the Dane County Sheriff's Office and the Wisconsin Department of Justice were not impartial.
"It's not conspiracy theory," Nathan says. "This is how unconscious bias creeps in. You have people who are very wedded to a particular outcome, and they are much more keen to hear the things that will substantiate the story that they would really like to be true."
Ozanne and Wray have both said they don't see the need for another investigation. The state Department of Justice specifically conducted a review of Heimsness' decision-making and found it to be in line with training and standards. Through all of this, Heimsness remains on paid leave, though he did briefly return to work in December.
Amelia describes the campaign as an emotionally exhausting daily effort. She wishes her daughter would not have to continue hearing her to talk about it and wishes she could concentrate more on music.
Nobody has directly tried to tell the Royko Maurers to stop, they say. But if someone did, they are unlikely to be convinced. In mid-April Ald. Paul Skidmore wrote in a letter to the Wisconsin State Journal that it was "time to accept the conclusions of the investigations." The Royko Maurers responded a few weeks later, again charging that personal relationships between members of the Madison Police Department, District Attorney's Office and Attorney General's Office produced a conflict of interest and lack of impartiality in investigating Heimsness.
But there's still room for happiness in the Royko Maurer household, the couple say. "I'm extremely resilient," Amelia says. "When the sun is shining, we let it hit our face. It took awhile to not feel guilty about that. We recognize the beauty in life."
Filing a complaint
The hard work of the Royko Maurers and other supporters has produced some movement. The U.S. Department of Justice in early February announced it would investigate whether Heenan's civil rights were violated. And both Wray and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin have expressed interest in altering aspects of investigations involving officers.
"I do not believe we would be close to where we are without those two individuals," Hammer says of the Royko Maurers.
The couple are about to turn their attention to the Police and Fire Commission, a panel of five citizens that has the power to discipline law enforcement members. They've begun the process of filing a complaint to the board, which they hope could lead to Heimsness' removal from patrol.
In the meantime, the Royko Maurers and other supporters wait to hear the U.S. Department of Justice's ruling and the results of the three additional investigations into Heimsness' conduct. These could potentially pump more momentum into the cause.
Until then, the Royko Maurers vow to keep on the backs of law enforcement.
"[The police] are waiting, it feels like, for people like us - who aren't just doing this for some vanity reason - to get tired of banging on their door and asking for the answers that we keep on not getting, so that they finally get that it's-all-blown-over feeling," Nathan says.
That, says Amelia as she leans in, "is never, ever going to happen."