Up to 40 people listened to, and engaged with, an 11-person panel consisting of concerned community members, law enforcement officials and experts, health professionals and others at the Community Response Team meeting on Tuesday.
A panel of 11 law enforcement officials, police experts, mental health professionals and others met with about 40 concerned community members at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center Tuesday night to discuss strategies to rebuild trust in the wake of Paul Heenan's death last November.
The Community Response Team, a group of concerned citizens who have sought to create a dialogue surrounding Heenan's shooting by a Madison Police officer, arranged the meeting. It functioned as an opportunity for the panel -- which convened privately in late June -- to publicly deliberate on five agreed-upon methods for rebuilding relations with the public and police.
Those include continuing a dialogue between police and the community; establishing objectively impartial investigations for officer-involved shootings, beginning with Heenan's death; exploring crisis-intervention team training models for mental health situations; allowing citizen to oversee police policies; and pursuing changes to various state statutes.
Although any officer-involved shooting incidents were fair game in the public forum -- including the death of Brent Brozek on May 17 -- dialogue rarely strayed from Heenan. He was killed by Officer Stephen Heimsness, who responded to a burglary-in-progress call at South Baldwin Street in the early morning of Nov. 9. The officer drew his gun and ordered Heenan to stop a physical altercation with another individual. Heenan, who was intoxicated at the time and had wandered into the wrong house, then began grappling with Heimsness, who fired three times.
Many of the community's longstanding concerns regarding Heenan's death were revisited Tuesday. Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, one of the panelists, again stated he is open to altering use-of-force standards. He also supports implementing an independent investigation system for officer-involved shootings. However, Wray did not waver on his stance that the MPD's investigation into Heenan's death is sufficient.
That frustrated several people in the audience. And on multiple occasions during a question-and-answer segment, the room turned tense from crowd members still upset over separate aspects of the investigation.
Several other potential changes to departmental oversight were discussed, including supervision of communication between officers through computers in their squad cars.
Heimsness, the officer who killed Heenan, agreed to resign after Wray filed a complaint to fire him after discovering he made insulting, and perhaps threatening, remarks about his coworkers and citizens with his computer prior to the shooting.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, another panelist, said he did not learn of Heimsness' statements until "at least a month” after exonerating him.
"We are looking at adjustments and changes as it relates to supervision, more directly to [mobile data computer] messaging," Wray said. "We are looking for ways to more readily extract that information."
Wray also noted he would like to hold meetings where the police department can update the public on the process of reshaping certain policies.
"I want to do whatever I can as a leader of this organization to get that trust back," he said.
Earning trust will require Wray to stick to his word, according to Cliff Hammer and Josh Peterson, two friends of Heenan, as well as organizer and panelist Stephanie Rearick.
Hammer and Peterson said they were encouraged to hear the panelists agree that independent investigations should be implemented. Nevertheless, results are what the community really wants, they said.
"We don't have a comfortable sense at this point that we'll see all the impacts we want," Rearick said.