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DA: No criminal liability in officer-involved shooting

Published On: Dec 27 2012 12:30:05 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 28 2012 06:34:25 AM CST
Officer Steven Heimsness and Paul Heenan

Officer Steven Heimsness and Paul Heenan

MADISON, Wis. -

Prosecutors have cleared a Madison police officer who shot and killed Paul Heenan last month of any criminal wrongdoing.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne released a statement Thursday saying a homeowner awoke to find his neighbor, Heenan, in his house on Nov. 9.

The homeowner's wife called Madison police, reporting a home burglary. It was later discovered Heenan, 30, was new to the neighborhood and attempted entering the wrong house. Heenan had been drinking and was confused, according to police.

Prosecutors said Heenan had a blood-alcohol content of 0.208 percent.

"I don't believe this could happen to just anyone. People every day in our community are intoxicated. Yet they still don't go up to people's homes and open doors in the middle of the night. That doesn't happen," Ozanne said.

Officer Stephen Heimsness arrived at the scene with his weapon drawn.

"The reality is law enforcement was responding to a burglary in progress. This is a felony situation where you had people home in the house, calling, with children," Ozanne said.

Ozanne said Heimsness saw two men in a physical struggle on the sidewalk near 513 S. Baldwin St. and he recognized one of the men as the husband of the woman who had reported the break-in.

According to Ozanne's statement, Heimsness and the homeowner said Heenan charged Heimsness, who had his gun drawn and was giving commands for Heenan to get on the ground.

The officer said there was a struggle and he thought Heenan was trying to grab his gun and he fired because he feared for his life.

Heimsness fired three shots after getting distance between him and Heenan, according to Ozanne.

Ozanne concluded Heimsness didn't violate any statutes. The prosecutor said anyone who believes he or she faces a genuine threat of deadly force can respond with deadly force.

The homeowner told police he believed Heenan was drunk and he was attempting to take him to his house down the street. He said Heenan had come at him and was pushing him backwards.

Ozanne said evidence, including witness statements, officer statements, physical evidence, State Crime Lab findings and Medical Examiner findings are consistent with each other.

Attorney Jeff Scott Olson, who is representing the Heenan family, said the family is considering a civil suit.

"I wasn't surprised at all (by the district attorney's conclusion). It's a very rare case where there's strong enough evidence that a public prosecutor feels he has proof beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal liability," Olson said.

Olson said he doesn't agree that there was an immediate threat.

"Heimsness was able to separate himself from Mr. Heenan and achieve five or six feet of separation before he shot him. It doesn't say (Heenan) was advancing on him a second time when he was shot," Olson said.

Olson said now that the police reports will be publicly available, he looks forward to going through them, and he and the family will make a decision soon on whether or not they'll move forward with a civil case.

Ozanne also found the Madison Police Department conducted a thorough and objective investigation that is ongoing.

Madison police told WISC-TV the results of their internal investigation into whether Heimsness violated department policies in the shooting could be available late next week. Heimsness would not be reinstated until after the internal investigation, if he's cleared.

Dan Frei, president of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, said while the Madison Police Department's investigation is internal, it should be trusted.

"If you have the trust in our police department to conduct those investigations every day, then you should have that same level of trust in something like this -- that we're going to use the same degree of professionalism and responsibility in this that we would in any other investigation," Frei said.

A Madison Police Department spokesman couldn't say Thursday whether the department would consider a third-party investigator in the future.

"I've heard that question asked before and that's not something I can really comment on in terms of who does the fact-finding mission, if you will. Those are decisions that are made on different levels," said Howard Payne, a Madison Police Department spokesman.

The Dane County Sheriff's Office appointed a lieutenant to shadow the internal fact-finding. Madison police have done that in the past when county deputies have been involved in shootings.

Frei, who has been in law enforcement for 20 years, said he couldn't remember the last time a local officer was actually found at fault in a shooting. Heimsness continues to serve as treasurer of the police union.

Amelia and Nathan Royko Maurer, Heenan's roommates on South Baldwin Street, called the premise of the internal investigation "absurd."

"They're investigating themselves -- doesn't that seem absurd?" asked Amelia Royko Maurer. "And then (Ozanne) gets to decide whether criminal charges are brought against this officer -- that seems so totally outrageous."

Heenan's roommates said that even with a final decision, they and other neighbors remain stunned over the shooting.

"The officer gets a second chance on life or continued duty on the force," Nathan Royko Maurer said. "Our friend Paulie gets nothing, and his family gets nothing."

"We're angry, and we're sad, and our hearts are broken for his parents," Amelia Royko Maurer said. "Even if the DA had done the right thing and charged Stephen Heimsness, they still don't get their son back."

There has been an increased level of scrutiny surrounding Heimsness because of his use of force in two separate incidents.

In 2006, Heimsness reportedly kneed and kicked a man he was arresting at a downtown bar, which the Madison Police Department determined was within reason for the situation. But the city of Madison settled a $27,000 deal with the man's attorney after witnesses said that he was intentionally struck in the head by Heimsness in the incident.

In 2001, Heimsness fired his gun, shooting out the front tires of a car in a university-area parking garage. Heimsness said he thought the driver was going to hit him. He was suspended without pay for 15 days for the incident.

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