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Heenan's father speaks out about shooting

Published On: Jan 30 2013 03:06:18 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 16 2013 10:18:53 AM CST
HEENAN, PAUL

Paul Heenan, 30, of Madison

MADISON, Wis. -

The father of the man fatally shot by a Madison police officer is speaking out for the first time since the shooting.

John Heenan said he's ready to talk about his son, Paul, a young man he called a renaissance man who was a musician and had a knack for computers.

"You might have to lose a child to understand what it's like, and I don't wish that on anyone," Heenan said.

Left with nothing but memories, Heenan recalled the night in November that changed his life.

"Capital punishment seems to be a lot for being drunk and possibly disorderly," he said.

Heenan was shot three times as Madison police officer Steve Heimsness responded to what was reported to be a home burglary in the 500 block of Baldwin Street.

The Dane County District Attorney and a Madison Police Department investigation both cleared Heimsness of wrongdoing in the case.

It was later determined that Heenan was drunk and entered a neighbor's house by mistake. Police said Heenan, who was unarmed, charged at Heimsness and reached for the officer's gun.

"He was shot three times, and they went clear through him, and, somehow, that made it worse," John Heenan said.

He remembered him as a music-loving renaissance man with a knack for computers and a wide array of passions.

John Heenan said he feels he has to do something in response to his son's death.

"If I don't try to make a difference, I couldn't forgive myself if this happens again without me at least trying," he said.

Heenan now has Michael Bell by his side. Kenosha police killed Bell's son on the exact day Heenan was shot eight years earlier.

Paul Heenan’s sister reached out to Bell for support.  Bell also brings a political mission.  He has helped other family members of those killed in officer-involved shootings across Wisconsin and has lobbied with billboards and handshakes for a change on a state level.

“If in 110, 120 years there's never been an unjustified ruling,” Bell said, “it's telling you the system is probably broken.”

Bell added that his family received a $1.75 million settlement from the city of Kenosha.  To him, that was proof that the shooting was unjustified.

The Madison Police Department conducted an in-house review of the case, and Heimsness was found to be in line with police protocol.

It's a review that police Chief Noble Wray said is fair in its findings, but he's open to changing the way investigations happen in the future.

"I believe that the set of circumstances would have resulted in the public outcry, the public scrutiny that we're currently seeing because it's conducive of that. This was a perfect storm," Wray said.

One source of comfort for the Heenan family is that Paul was an organ donor, and his corneas are helping someone else see.

"Knowing that his eyes are out there still in the world, that's a good thing; that's helped," Heenan said.

But he said it's the pain his family has felt that have him speaking up now.

"The hurt is so great, I don't want anyone else to go through this. I really don't," Heenan said.

“Somehow if these investigations are done fairly, and somehow these officers can be removed before violence has escalated, if somehow we can prevent this from happening to another family, if I don't try to make a difference, I couldn't forgive myself if this happens again without me at least trying,” Heenan explained.

Heimsness is not back on patrol yet, but he is cleared to return to the force.

Heenan wouldn't say how he feels about Heimsness being back on duty. He only said that it is the Madison Police Department's decision to put him there.

Wray said he has heard many suggestions, including putting together a citizen review board, assembling a team made up of law enforcement from different agencies assigned to officer-involved shootings and handing off a case at a certain point in the investigation. The chief said he's willing to look at those ideas.

After the community called for an independent investigation, Madison's city attorney said there are in fact a number of agencies reviewing the police department for officer-involved shootings.

City Attorney Michael May noted that the Dane County District Attorney's Office, the Department of Criminal Investigation and the Dane County Sheriff's Department all looked at the case.

May said a review panel could be appropriate but only to make punishment recommendations.

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