Madison police Officer Stephen Heimsness is the subject of three internal investigations of conduct that occurred before his involvement in the shooting of Paul Heenan, according to the police department.
During a Friday news conference, Police Chief Noble Wray called the allegations against Heimsness "troubling." He said none of the incidents are related Heenan's shooting. Two of the investigations were underway before the shooting and one started after the shooting. All of the investigations were started based on complaints from within the department.
Wray refused to comment further on the investigations.
Heimness will remain on paid leave until the investigations are complete and Wray is comfortable returning Heimsness to duty, according to Wray.
Heimsness was cleared of any wrongdoing after he shot and killed Heenan, who was unarmed, on Madison's near east side on Nov. 9 while responding to what he thought was a burglary in progress.
It was later determined that Heenan, who was drunk, had entered a neighbor's house by mistake, prompting a 911 call of a reported break-in.
Wray said the investigations don’t change his belief that Heimsness’ actions in the Heenan shooting were reasonable. He said he made the decision this week to keep Heimsness on leave.
Joe Durkin, with the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, told WISC-TV he's disappointed in Wray's decision. He said no officer has ever faced serious discipline for the policy violations Heimsness is being investigated for.
Heimsness received overtime pay while on leave
Heimsness was paid $1010.24 in overtime while on leave during the investigation of Heenan’s shooting death.
Heimsness was on paid leave during the investigation into the shooting. He claimed the overtime pay for a number of days he was called to work, regarding the investigation, on what were considered days off.
The Madison Police Department union contract states, "Employees, on an off duty day...who are called back to duty...shall be paid...a minimum of three hours at the rate of time-and one-half the employee's regular rate of pay."
Durkin said Heimsness was also called in for additional meetings on some days that he was getting paid for a regularly scheduled shift, and he did not put in for OT those days, although he could have under the contract language.
DOJ opens investigation
The U.S. Department of Justice said this week it will review the shooting case to determine if Heenan's civil rights were violated by a use of unreasonable force, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said he asked for the review after receiving up to 100 letters requesting an independent review of the Madison Police Department's internal investigation of the shooting.
“It's a very narrowly-focused review,” Vaudreuil said. “It really focuses on one question: Was federal criminal law violated? In other words, each of us has a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable force by police officers, and if that reaches to a certain level that can be a crime.”
The Dane County district attorney reviewed the case and cleared Heimsness of any criminal liability. The Madison Police Department conducted an internal investigation and concluded that Heimsness acted in compliance with department protocol.
The review by the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., will be limited to the question of whether there was a violation of federal law. Vaudreuil said the review will specifically look at whether Heenan's constitutional rights were violated by the use of unreasonable force.
Vaudreuil does not expect a decision for several weeks.
“Every case is unique. It's certainly a difficult situation for our community and that warrants very careful review,” Vaudreuil said.
Michael Bell, an advocate for the Heenan family, told WISC-TV that he spoke with Heenan's parents Thursday afternoon and they didn't know about the U.S. attorney's decision then.
"I'm quite surprised. Hopefully it's a good sign. The U.S. attorney doesn't usually step in like this," Bell said.
The Heenan family’s attorney, Jeff Scott Olson, said criminal charges against Officer Heimsness would make things easier for him in court. However, he does not think the outcome of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation will impact the family’s case.
“We don't expect there to be a criminal prosecution,” Olson said. “There's a very high bar for that sort of thing in a federal civil rights case.”
Olson added he expects to receive records pertaining to the officer-involved shooting investigation on Feb. 19. He plans to review those documents, make sure they are complete, and then advise the family on what to do moving forward. Olson more recently submitted a request for personnel records connected to the case.
Reaction from Heenan’s friend and roommate
Paul Heenan’s east side roommate Nathan Royko Maurer said he wanted to hear what Chief Noble Wray had to say firsthand. Immediately after the announcement, Royko Maurer expressed his surprise and concern over the investigations.
“It's tremendously disturbing,” Royko Maurer said. “If Paulie could have avoided coming into contact with him and perhaps a different officer, any other officer I suspect, who would have behaved with more restraint, he'd be alive.”
Royko Maurer was particularly concerned about the number of issues that have been brought up, the fact that they were all internally generated, and the timing of those reports. He said he hoped the department would take a closer look at how it deals with similar complaints and investigations.
“This isn't a good thing. You know, we're not happy that Officer Heimsness is apparently that much closer from being removed from active duty,” Royko Maurer said. “Actually, this ups the ante of the tragedy because it sounds like it was even more preventable than we already felt it was.”
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin issued a statement Friday regarding the investigations of Heenan’s shooting.
Soglin said that while he has confidence in the system used to investigate Heimsness, “…because of the questions posed regarding impartiality, I would be receptive to having an outside law enforcement agency take primary responsibility in conducting the criminal investigations when a death occurs because of actions taken by a Madison police officer.”
He said that he’s receptive to proposals that would address concerns about potential conflicts of interest.
The city will cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation of the case, according to Soglin.
He said he would not specifically address the Heenan case on the advice of the city attorney.