MADISON (WKOW) -- Fathers who had lost sons in officer-involved shootings testified Thursday in support of a bill to create an independent panel of experts to review such shootings.
John Heenan of Oregon told members of the Assembly Criminal Justice committee his unarmed son Paul's death in a November 2012 shooting by a Madison police officer was not properly reviewed.
"We feel there was not a good investigation done," Heenan said. "We feel things were covered up."
The shooting by officer Stephen Heimsness was deemed justified, as Heimsness said he believed Paul Heenan was going for his gun. But Heimsness resigned after the shooting, when the police chief proposed firing him, over dozens of unrelated, conduct violations.
Michael Bell, whose son was shot and killed by a Kenosha police officer in 2004, testified his research has unearthed just one instance, when an officer-involved shooting in Wisconsin has been deemed unjustified. Bell has used portions of a more than $1 million civil settlement over his son's death, to publicize the need to end the practice of police personnel, and even district attorneys, passing judgment in custody death situations, on officers they have ties to.
"The system is broken," Bell said.
Assembly bill 409 proposes to create a five-person, independent panel of experts to review officer-involved shootings, although the board would not usurp a district attorney's power of review.
But Milwaukee attorney Sam Hall, who has represented dozens of police officers, said the review process is already exhaustive, with police superiors, district attorneys, judges, and federal officials potentially involved. Hall said the rarity of a criminal case against an officer who takes the life of a person in custody is understandable, given the proof needed to show a homicide occurred. But Hall said discipline against officers for rules violations in connection with deadly incidents does take place.
Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said the state's two largest police departments, Milwaukee and Madison, investigate shootings by their own officers, in contrast to the system used to examine potential ethical violations by attorneys, when lawyers from other firms review the conduct.
Wisconsin Professional Police Officers Association president Jim Palmer said findings from an independent board and district attorneys could clash, and legal issues could result for the state.
"We feel AB 409 would bring transparency and trust back," John Heenan said.
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