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Family of man shot by Madison police release letter to chief, DA

Published On: Dec 16 2012 04:56:25 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 17 2012 07:41:27 PM CST
HEENAN, PAUL

Paul Heenan, 30, of Madison

MADISON, Wis. -

The investigation is ongoing in the shooting death of Madison musician Paul Heenan, but the family of the victim wants answers sooner rather than later.

Speaking from her home in North Carolina 36 days after her brother died, Heenan's sister Emily says the officer who shot Heenan should be fired. She also questions the manner in which police have released information.

"You know, this could've happened to anyone," said Emily Heenan. "But it happened to my brother."

"I'll never be able to look at a police officer the same again," Emily continued.

Emily Heenan is driven to share her concerns about the case with the entire Madison community, and specifically with Police Chief Noble Wray and District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.

WISC-TV obtained the letter Heenan wrote (PDF) to the two city leaders on December 6.

In it, Heenan writes that the "lack of transparent facts in the case represents a problem for our community."

She also points out that it took the police department several days, four in fact, to confirm Paul was not a burglar but a neighbor in the wrong house, despite that fact being known by the first officers on the scene.

"The time that it took to clear his name should give all of us a cause for reflection," said Heenan. "We want an honest and forthcoming police department, not one that manipulates the release of facts in order to protect its public image."

The incident happened early Friday, November 9. It wasn't until Monday that police first answered any questions on camera from the media.

Chief Wray initially laid out what he called a "deadly force situation," during which Madison police officer Steven Heimsness saw two men "grappling and struggling" and thought the homeowner was struggling with a burglar. The officer said he ordered both to the ground. The homeowner dropped, but Heenan did not.

Heimsness said Heenan grabbed him and reached for his gun, after which he pulled the trigger three times, with all of the shots hitting Heenan, killing him.

"I didn't believe it," Heenan's sister now says. "There's no way. There's no way he could have gone for a gun. He hated guns. He was afraid of guns. He was scared of guns."

"I'm sure he was drunk," continued Heenan. "A lot of people get drunk in Madison. I was a UW student. I saw how people can drink downtown and stumble home. And people will stumble around and be confused and stupid and drunk but they don't get shot. They don't get shot by police officers, but they could. It could have been anybody."

In her letter, Emily Heenan urges the community to ask the tough questions, including does the Madison Police Department have a clean record in using lethal force or "do the powers that be just have a policy of giving the police officers involved the benefit of the doubt?"

Of Heimsness, Heenan says bluntly, "he should be fired."

"I hope the community will never forget this," she continues. "And I hope that they will remember this every time that they have to call the police."

Emily Heenan says she also wants people to remember Paul Heenan as kind and gentle, and she vows to keep fighting for her brother's name.

If she could speak to her brother now, Emily says, "Well, I would tell him that I love him. And I would tell him that I'm going to be strong and I will, and I will be strong and I will get the truth out about this. And I won't let him down."

In response, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne told WISC-TV that he had not seen the letter, but he said that even if he had, he said he could not comment on an open investigation.

The DA has yet to decide if he will clear Officer Heimsness of any wrongdoing in that shooting.

The Madison police chief said Monday that he will respond directly to the criticism from the Heenan family but that it will not happen through the media.

On Monday, Joel DeSpain, spokesman for the Madison Police Department, said that police "released information on this case as quickly as we had sufficient facts."

Wray said he plans on addressing the family's letter and concerns once the investigation is complete.

Here follows the letter written by Emily Heenan:

December 6, 2012

Chief Noble Wray
City of Madison
Police Department
211 S. Carroll St.
Madison, WI 53703

Ismael R. Ozanne
Dane County District Attorney
Dane County Courthouse
215 S. Hamilton St. #3000
Madison WI 53703-3297

Dear Chief Wray and District Attorney Ozanne:

My name is Emily Heenan. On November 9th, 2012, my brother Paul Heenan was shot and killed by a Madison police officer. Although I am still grieving, I believe it is time that I speak and to share some of my thoughts and concerns with the entire community.

I have been given to understand that the District Attorney’s office will soon render a decision on whether criminal charges will be filed in this case, and the Police Department will also have to decide whether to pursue disciplinary action against the officer involved. To my knowledge, never in the history of the Madison Police Department has the District Attorney decided a police officer’s decision to use lethal force was worthy of prosecution. It is my hope that the District Attorney’s review of this particular case is free of all political influences, financial considerations, and historical biases.

The lack of transparent facts in this case represents a problem for our community. The rate at which facts were revealed to the media by the MPD allowed a certain amount of slander to be spread about my brother. The MPD claimed that a full investigation was needed to establish facts which were actually already apparent at the scene. For instance, it was not until several days after the shooting that the MPD confirmed to the media that my brother was not a burglar. That fact was known to the first officers on the scene who talked to the neighbor trying to take my brother home, Kevin O’Malley. The time that it took to clear his name should give all of us cause for reflection. We want an efficient, honest and forthcoming police department, not one that manipulates the release of facts in order to protect its public image. It is my sincere hope that the communication procedures currently followed by the MPD are adjusted in order to remedy this issue.

As a community, I believe we need to ask these hard questions. Does the MPD have a perfect record in justified use of lethal force resulting in death, or do the powers that be just have a policy of giving the police officers involved the benefit of the doubt? Many of us have made mistakes without meaning harm, whether or not it was after a long day. We all make mistakes in one form or another. But the death of my brother, probably the most harmless person to walk the streets of Madison in this century, wasn’t just a mistake; it was a failure of the officer involved and, in particular, of his ability to make safe and quick decisions. It was a failure of his training and the policies associated with that training. Finally, the media should have been prepared to ask questions for our community, not just about this one tragedy, but about the procedures and policies of the MPD that may have contributed to it.

In order to rebuild the trust between the community and the MPD, it seems to me that all relevant questions must be answered and several steps must be taken. The MPD must unequivocally demonstrate that it is doing its absolute best to ensure that all of its police officers work to fulfill the MPD mission and uphold all of its core values at all times. I hope that the office of the District Attorney also understands that whatever decision is made, it will greatly impact the community and the public’s perception of the MPD. People should not have to be afraid to call the police, but if the decisions made in this case send the message that what happened to my brother was appropriate and proper in the eyes of our law enforcement authorities, many members of our community will never feel safe asking the police for help again.

I feel that it is my duty to speak out so that the community and the media hear me loud and clear. The pain and awkwardness of a criminal prosecution of, and disciplinary proceedings against, the officer involved will be worth it ten times over if our city is made safer by it.

Sincerely,

Emily M Heenan

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