Madison
77° F
Scattered Clouds
Scattered Clouds
Advertisement

Police: Man fatally shot by officer was unarmed

Published On: Nov 12 2012 04:39:19 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 13 2012 09:46:05 AM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

The Madison police chief says the man killed by a police officer last Friday was reaching toward the officer's gun when he was shot.

Chief Noble Wray also confirmed that the man was not a burglar, but a neighbor who reportedly had been drinking before he mistakenly entered the wrong house.

Wray said 30-year-old Paul Heenan entered the house using a key the homeowners kept in their door.

Wray also said in a news conference Monday that Heenan wasn't armed when he was fatally shot by the officer.

The chief said Officer Stephen Heimsness was responding to a 911 call about a possible burglary in the 500 block of South Baldwin Street when he arrived to find Heenan struggling with the homeowner outside.

Wray said Heenan advanced toward the officer, grabbed his hand with one and reached toward the officer's gun with the other.

Wray said that Heenan wasn't armed at the time but that Heimsness believed his life was in danger during the struggle and fired three rounds, killing Heenan.

Wray said the incident began when the homeowners called 911 to report a burglary at their home. Wray said officers were told that the caller was a woman, that she was with four children, and that her husband had gone downstairs to investigate.

That's when the male homeowner recognized the suspected burglar, Heenan, as his neighbor and realized he wasn't trying to burglarize the home.

"We did respond to a complaint of a burglary in progress, but that was not what the incident turned out to be," Wray said. "Although this case was called in a burglary in progress, it turns out that Mr. Heenan was not a burglar but someone who had recently moved into the neighborhood and had entered the wrong address."

The homeowner began walking Heenan over to his home, and Heimsness, who was the first officer to arrive at the scene, saw the two men struggling outside when he arrived, according to police.

"It was a very dark street, but as (Heimsness) walked up, he could see two men grappling and struggling. Based on the description of the husband provided by dispatch, he believed he was seeing the homeowner struggling with a possible burglar," Wray said.

Wray said Heimsness pulled out his service weapon, radioed to dispatch about what he was seeing, and ordered the two men to get down on the ground.

Heenan disengaged with the homeowner and focused his attention on Heimsness, Wray said.

The husband moved away with his hands in the air as Heenan moved toward Heimsness, Wray said.

The police chief said Heimsness began to back up, and Heenan swore at the officer and quickly closed the distance between them.

"Officer Heimsness said Mr. Heenan grabbed him, latching on to his left hand with one hand while using the other to reach officer Heimsness's gun. Officer Heimsness believed his life was in danger and fired three rounds," Wray said.

Wray said the entire incident happened very fast, with "just as a matter of seconds between Officer Heimsness told Mr. Heenan to get down when the shots were fired."

"There were several commands by the officer to 'get down' -- that's not in dispute," Wray said.

A second officer, Stacy Troumbly, had gotten out of her squad car at the opposite end of the block and began running toward Heimsness and Heenan. Troumbly provided emergency life-saving measures on Heenan after he was shot.

"From all accounts, there was a struggle between Mr. Heenan and (the homeowner), and there was also a struggle that took place between officer Heimsness and Mr. Heenan," Wray said.

Both officers are on administrative leave, which is standard protocol.

Wray said that based on what he knows so far from the investigation, he believes that Heenan's actions produced a deadly force situation. He said Troumbly and the homeowner also supported Heimsness's account of the incident.

"Anytime you get a citizen in close proximity to a police officer and their weapon is there and becomes part of the issue and there's an aggressive move, I think it does produce a deadly force situation," Wray said.

Wray said the investigation is not complete yet. Once the investigation is complete, it will be forwarded to the Dane County district attorney.

Madison police said they're also conducting an internal investigation to determine if Heimsness's actions were in line with the department's policies and training.

Heimsness has been on the Madison police force for 15 years. Heimsness is treasurer of the police officers' union, and his biography lists him as a third-shift patrol officer in the central district, an assignment that has twice before put him in the center of controversy.

In 2001, Heimsness shot out the tires of a car driving recklessly in a campus area parking ramp.

Police reports said Heimsness and another Madison police officer were on routine bicycle patrol in the Francis Street and Lake Street parking ramps when a vehicle drove quickly up the ramp, driving fast and blaring loud music

Once it parked, the officers approached the vehicle. When they started talking to the driver, he began pulling out of the spot and hit Heimsness's bike behind the car.

The officers then drew their weapons and threatened to shoot, according to police reports.

The driver then turned his wheels toward Heimsness, who, in response, shot the driver's-side front tire, according to police reports.

As the car passed him and tried to get out of the garage, Heimsness fired another shot at the passenger's-side front tire, according to police reports.

Madison police concluded that Heimsness was in no imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he therefore violated department's policies and used excessive force. Heimsness was suspended for 15 days.

Then in 2006, Heimsness's alleged actions led the department to ultimately pay out $27,000 to settle a different case.

Heimsness and other officers responded to State Street Brats to break up a fight. Police records said that's where Jacob Bauer resisted police, and Heimsness kicked and kneed him several times.

Heimsness said he was trying to control Bauer and was aiming for the shoulders and torso.

Other witnesses mentioned in the police report said Heimsness administered intentional blows to Bauer's head.

The Madison Police Department concluded in its investigation that there were no alternatives to using that force.

The City Controller's Office said Heimsness used excessive force, but the District Attorney's Office again did not file charges.

Attorney Jeff Scott Olson, who represented Bauer, said he doesn't think a department investigating its own officer is likely to result in discipline.

"We almost never see anything come out of an internal police department investigation of its own officers," Olson said. "We also almost never see criminal charges lodged against a police officer for misconduct."

Olson added that each incident needs to be evaluated individually.

"From a practical standpoint, you don't like to see an officer who has a propensity for becoming out of control to be dealing with volatile situations on the street at night with a gun in his hand," Olson said. "But from a strictly legal analysis, you can't prove that somebody did something wrong by trying to prove they did a similar thing wrong in the past. The law doesn't permit that."

WISC-TV has requested disciplinary and training files for Heimsness, but they have not yet been released.

Residents in the near east side neighborhood said they were surprised by the police chief's comments Monday that Heenan grabbed at the officer who shot him.

"Musicians in general, we're generally not the violent types of people," neighbor Adam Isaac said. "We play music for the people. So, it's just terrible, a terrible tragedy."

The neighborhood is made of up musicians, middle class people and generally people who don't support violence, residents said.

They have been dealing with a regular police presence since the shooting, and many are having a hard time moving past what happened, said Todd Jensen, president of the Marquette Neighborhood Association.

"There's a certain amount of anger with some people," he said. "Primarily, I would say it's shock and profound sadness."

Neighbors are planning a candlelight vigil for sometime in the near future, while other residents are organizing a "healing circle" for midday Sunday. Specifics aren't final, neighbors said.

Police will also be welcome at the events, said Tammy, a neighbor who asked to only be identified by her first name.

"I can't imagine the police department and members of it aren't hurting over this event as well," she said.

Advertisement
Advertisement