MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin made history Wednesday, becoming the first state in the nation to require an independent review of all police officer-involved deaths.
Governor Walker signed legislation that requires every officer-involved death in the state to be investigated by members of an outside law enforcement agency.
Several high-profile incidents sparked an outcry from the families of loved ones who died at the hands of police.
In Madison, there were three such incidents over the course of 11 months during 2012-13.
The most controversial came on November 9th, 2012, when Madison Police Officer Stephen Heimsness shot and killed 30 year-old Paul Heenan on the city's east side.
Heenan drunkenly tried to enter the home of a neighbor and Officer Heimsness responded to the report of a burglar.
In the misunderstanding that ensued, Heimsness shot and killed the unarmed Heenan, saying Heenan had tried to reach for his service weapon.
Madison Police and the Dane County District Attorney ruled the shooting was justified.
"The police are allowed to do this and previously they weren't even questioned, we couldn't even question them, because they would investigate themselves and that was wrong," said John Heenan, Paul Heenan's father.
Heenan's parents joined family members of other victims at the Capitol to celebrate the bill's signing.
The law makes a key change to the way such officer-involved deaths are investigated.
"That the lead investigator be from outside the department, with a secondary investigator from outside the department," said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), who co-authored the legislation along with Rep. Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay).
"When my son was killed, we didn't have the luxury of what this bill affords right now," said Michael Bell, whose son of the same name died in 2004, after a Kenosha police officer shot him in the head after a traffic stop.
Bell has devoted much of the past decade to establishing an unbiased review of such incidents.
"We feel that this is something that our forefathers would have prescribed, because it provided checks and balances and provides a little bit of oversight," said Bell.
Rep. Taylor says the law contains other important provisions.
"The bill also makes sure that the families get information, about what their options are," said Rep. Taylor. "It makes sure that any report that is done, if there's no charges brought, gets released to the public."
Paul Heenan's mother says she hopes the law ensures that others won't have to endure what she has over the past 18 months.
"Are we separate from the police? They made us feel that way," said Dorie Heenan. "A bill like this can maybe bring us back together."
MADISON (WKOW) -- Civilian deaths caused by law enforcement officers will soon be reviewed by outside agencies after Gov. Walker signed a bill making that state law Wednesday morning.
The law calls for investigations into officer-involved deaths to be carried out by authorities from a different law enforcement agency than the one involved in the incident in question.
Wisconsin is the first state in the country to set up an independent review of officer-involved deaths.
Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Rep. Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) co-authored the legislation.
Rep. Taylor initiated the legislation after Madison Police Officer Stephen Heimsness shot and killed 30 year-old Paul Heenan in November of 2012 on the city's east side. Police said a drunk Heenan made a grab for the officer's gun. Both the Madison Police Department and the Dane County District Attorney's Office found the shooting was justified.
"When a tragedy of any kind occurs it is felt by everyone in the community," said Rep. Taylor. "I'm honored to represent a community of people who, despite their grief, were able to find a way to impact a positive change for the betterment of everyone in our state."
Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have more on this story on 27 News at 5 and 6.
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