Police find no wrongdoing by officer, cleared to return to duty - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Police find no wrongdoing by officer, cleared to return to duty

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison Police Chief Noble Wray said Wednesday Officer Stephen Heimsness violated no police procedures when he shot and killed an unarmed Madison man last November as Heimsness responded to a burglary call, and said Heimsness is cleared to return to duty as a patrol officer.

"His administrative leave has been lifted," Wray said at a City Hall news conference, noting there is no timetable for when Heimsness will actually return to work.

Authorities say Heimsness fatally shot sound engineer Paul Heenan November 9 around 2:45 a.m., after an intoxicated Heenan mistakenly entered a neighbor's home on South Baldwin Street, grappled with the neighbor as the neighbor tried to steer Heenan home, and grappled with Heimsness after the officer arrived, drew his gun, and ordered Heenan to get down.

Wray and other police officials said Heimsness encountered a high-risk situation authorities categorized initially as a burglary-in-progress. They said Heimsness' drawing of his weapon was in accord with police policy in those situations. They said Heimsness' decision to fire three shots at Heenan was based on his belief his life was in danger, when Heenan ignored commands and grappled with the officer.

Officials said Heimsness was able to push Heenan away and achieve some separation before opening fire. State ballistics efforts have estimated Heenan was between two and four feet away from Heimsness when he was shot.

During a videotaped recreation of the shooting from the perspective of the neighbor involved, Kevin O'Malley, O'Malley plays the role of Heenan, and is seen struggling with an officer portraying Heimsness.

During the video recreation, O'Malley recounts stating, "He's a neighbor," before Heimsness opened fire. Wray said Heimsness stated he did not hear O'Malley's declaration.

Officials said only fifteen seconds elapsed between Heimsness' arrival and commands for Heenan and O'Malley to get down, and the shots being fired.

District Attorney Ismael Ozanne previously ruled no crimes were committed in connection to Heimsness' actions.

Officials said Heimsness was equipped with a taser when he responded to the call. But arrest tactics expert Sgt. Jason freedman said tasers are only effective approximately sixty percent of the time, and said escalating to the use of deadly force from a taser, if necessary, can be difficult to accomplish in time to respond to an aggressor suspect. 

Heimsness previously was disciplined for excessive use of force when he shot out the tires of a fleeing suspect in a city parking garage. The City of Madison paid a settlement to several people involved in the incident, and paid a separate, settlement to a man who was injured as he was arrested by Heimsness in a bar.

Wray said Heimsness' past discipline and other actions were not considered in the decision to allow him to return to patrol, because Heimsness was cleared of any policy violations in the officer-involved shooting.

Wray said a Dane County Sheriff's lieutenant monitored the internal police investigation, and a state justice department unit reviewed the findings, but the probe was carried out by Madison Police. Wray said discussions have taken place among local agencies on the practicality and value of investigations of officer-involved shootings being done by a non-involved agency.

Wray conceded the shooting of an unarmed man sparked much community questioning and had the potential to create mistrust with the police department, but said he's strived to be transparent and thorough about what happened  


MADISON (WKOW) -- The Madison Police Department will release its findings on Wednesday morning on the internal investigation into an officer-involved shooting.

A press conference is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. at the City County Building. Madison Police Chief Noble Wray will release the police department's findings into the shooting death of 30-year-old Paul Heenan. Heenan was shot and killed by Officer Stephen Heimsness after a confrontation outside a home on South Baldwin Street in November.

This is the second investigation into the shooting. The Dane County District Attorney's Office released a report at the end of December, finding no criminal liability.

University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor and police prosecution policy expert, Mike Scott, says there are different types of investigations needed in all police shootings. Scott says ideally all reviews would be done outside the police department, but there is a need for an internal investigation too.

As a former police chief, Scott says police officers are under intense pressure out in the field. They have to react quickly with the training they're given.

"Any police officer, myself included, thinking about my own time working, I can recall incidents in which they came close to shooting someone who might not have needed to be shot," says Scott.

Scott says eyewitness accounts of high stress and fast-occurring situations are notoriously unreliable.

"Memories are distorted by the stress of the situation, by the speed with which the incidents occur and it's very easy for people to see or not to see things accurately and to hear or not to hear things accurately," says Scott.

Scott says the Madison Police Department has a good reputation of using deadly force in a restrictive way, and has procedures that are up to date. He believes there aren't any obvious changes needed.

Scott says criminal prosecution of an officer is very rare in police shootings but it can happen, and has happened in other states. He doesn't think an external investigation would find criminal liability in the Heenan case.

"It has happened, it has happened in other states, but across the country it's a very rare thing," says Scott. "Mainly because police officers very seldom have the criminal intent to kill somebody."

Family and friends of Heenan are not happy with the district attorney's decision to not press charges against Officer Heimsness.

A Facebook page has now become a grassroots campaign for an external look at the case and a state law to change how police shootings are investigated.

The attorney for Heenan's family has said they may file a civil lawsuit.

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