Paul Heenan's father disputes conclusion on shooting - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Paul Heenan's father disputes conclusion on shooting

MADISON (WKOW) -- In his first broadcast interview, John Heenan Tuesday disputed the conclusion from authorities his unarmed son's shooting by a Madison police officer was justified.

"I think there does need to be an outside investigation done on the police department," Heenan told 27 News.

Heenan's son, Madison musician Paul Heenan, was fatally shot November 9, 2012 by Officer Stephen Heimsness on Baldwin Street. Authorities said a drunken, unarmed Heenan mistakenly entered a neighbor's home and briefly scuffled with the neighbor as the neighbor tried to steer Heenan home. Authorities also said Heenan grappled with the responding Heimsness, who believed Heenan was trying to take his gun.

Police Chief Noble Wray last week announced Heimsness' actions were "objectively reasonable" given the circumstances and no policy violations took place.

"Anyone listening to the pronouncements of the police and knowing the evidence that they'd had, and yet the evidence they released seems to always come to one conclusion," John Heenan told 27 News.

Within days of the shooting, Wray said Paul Heenan appeared to have grabbed for Heimsness's gun, and only in response to a reporter's question mentioned a witness' shouts to try to alert Heimsness that Heenan was a neighbor and not a burglar.

Last week, Wray said Heimsness did not hear the witness' declarations during the tense interaction at 2:45 a.m.

John Heenan noted Heimsness' squad car approached the scene without lights illuminated or siren blaring, and failed to announce himself as a police officer. Police officials said a silent arrival is a tactical option in a suspected burglary and that Heimsness unsuccessfully ordered Heenan to get on the ground.

Heimsness was disciplined in 2001 for using excessive force when he shot at a fleeing suspect's car in a city parking garage. City officials paid a settlement to several people in connection with that incident and also paid a later settlement to a man who was injured when arrested by Heimsness, although Heimsness' arrest tactics were deemed appropriate. The total of the settlements is nearly $90,000.

Wray said Heimsness is eligible to return to police patrol duty from administrative leave, and added there was no consideration of any progressive discipline because Heimsness was cleared of wrongdoing in the Heenan shooting.

"For the life of me, I cannot understand why he's still there. I don't know, I don't understand it," John Heenan told 27 News.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne also determined Heimsness committed no crimes in the Heenan shooting.

Another man who lost an unarmed son in an officer-involved shooting, Michael Bell, is using a portion of a legal settlement from the city of Kenosha over the shooting to sponsor television commercials and billboards in Madison, calling for independent reviews when officers kill in the line of duty.

Bell told 27 News he attempted to meet with President Jim Palmer of the Wisconsin Professional Police Officers Association on the issue. But in correspondence with Bell, Palmer demanded Bell's commercials and billboard placements stop as a condition of any meeting, claiming the advertisements disparaged the reputations of all police officers.

"The only thing I have is a voice in the community, and you want to shut that voice down so that I can sit at your table? It's not going to happen," Bell told 27 News.

In an advertisement Bell said was scheduled to appear in Thursday's edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, commendations to officers involved in the shooting of Bell's son are referenced and the question is asked, "Will the W.P.P.A honor Officer Heimsness for Bravery?"

Palmer told 27 News he and Bell met Tuesday, even though Bell made no pledge to withdraw the advertisements. Bell said the ads clamor for impartial review, but pre-judge the conduct of Heimsness, even though he's been cleared of wrongdoing.

Palmer said the WPPA is open to considering proposals to change the manner in which officer-involved shootings are reviewed. "(But) We're not going to do it at the tip of the sword," Palmer told 27 News. 

According to records released to 27 News, most of more than two dozen e-mails sent to Madison Mayor Paul Soglin since the Heenan shooting urge an independent review of the incident.

In a memorandum released Tuesday from City Attorney Michael May to Soglin, May stated the city's Police and Fire Commission is the appropriate body to review an officer's actions, as long as a complaint is filed. May also stated an independent panel could be created to review an officer-involved shooting, but it would only be advisory to the police chief. May stated state law would have to change to grant such a panel more power, and said with police, district attorney, and the state justice department's training and standards bureau's scrutiny of the Heenan shooting, "...there has been, at some level, independent review by three independent entities looking at the incident."

Bell said an impartial review would require a panel to include not only law enforcement, but other stakeholders such as retired judges and criminal justice academics.

John Heenan told 27 News his lifelong confidence in the actions of police officers was close to shattered by his son's death.

"I used to trust them. I used to not question anything. I question things now," he said.



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