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Officer found to be 'in compliance' in shooting case

Published On: Jan 30 2013 02:35:25 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 09 2013 04:14:56 PM CST
Officer Steven Heimsness and Paul Heenan

Officer Steven Heimsness and Paul Heenan

MADISON, Wis. -

An internal Madison Police Department investigation of a Madison police officer involved in the shooting death of Paul Heenan found the officer to be in compliance with police department policies and training.

The ruling was announced during a news conference with Madison Police Chief Noble Wray Wednesday.

WISC-TV has obtained an audio recording of communications between a Dane County 911 dispatcher and Madison police responding to the incident.

Officer Stephen Heimsness will be assigned back to a patrol, but Wray said where and when that happens has not been determined.

In the report, Wray stated that it’s undisputed that Heenan, 30, didn’t comply with Heimsness’ commands and became physically engaged with officer Heimsness in the Nov. 9 incident in the 500 block of Baldwin Street.

Wray's report stated that Heimness saw two men in a struggle as he was responding to a report of a burglary in the area. The officer drew his gun and gave loud verbal commands.

He said Heenan didn't follow Heimsness' commands and Heenan moved quickly toward the officer. The report stated officer Heimness had the impression Heenan was attempting to grab his handgun.

"Officer Heimsness believed he was in imminent danger of being disarmed and that his life was in imminent danger," according to the report.

Heimsness fired three shots after getting distance between him and Heenan and struck Heenan with all three shots, according to the report.

Fifteen seconds passed between when Heimsness saw the struggle between the homeowner and when shots were fired, according to the investigation.

A video was played during the news conference showing a neighbor, Kevin O'Malley, explaining to officers the details of how the shooting occurred.

O'Malley said Heimness, after deadly shots fired, looked to other police officer and said, "He went for my gun."

O’Malley indicated to Heimsness that Heenan was a neighbor before the shooting, but officer Heimsness didn’t hear O’Malley, according to Wray.

"Officer [Heimsness] may not have identified himself, but gave quick commands, which enforces the fluidity and speed of situation," said Wray.

The report stated, "Confronting potential burglary suspects is a high-risk and dangerous activity for police officers; officers are trained to address such suspects at gunpoint."

Officers tried to address questions about the incident. Officer Kimba Tieu told reporters the transition from an officer using a Taser to a firearm in the event of deadly force situation may prove to be too long if the subject produces a weapon.

He and Sgt. Jason Freedman performed a demonstration showing how long an officer has to react in a deadly force situation.

Sgt. Freedman addressed the question of why three shots were fired by explaining that officers are trained to shoot until the threat is stopped.

He also said there's a gap between when the officer sees that there's no longer a threat and when the officer can make the decision to stop shooting.

"We can't train for every eventuality. So there has to be a degree of discretion we leave to the officers," said officer Tieu.

"I deeply regret the tragic circumstances leading to the death of Paul Heenan," Wray said.

Dane County prosecutors cleared Heimsness any criminal wrongdoing in connection with Heenan's shooting.

In his ruling on the case, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said a homeowner awoke to find his neighbor, Heenan, in his house.

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

WISC-TV obtained an audio recording of a Dane County 911 dispatcher communicating with Madison police before and after the shooting. The audio recording indicates that a 911 call reporting a break-in at 513 S. Baldwin St. was received by Dane County dispatchers at 2:45 a.m.

On the audio, a dispatcher alerts police units to respond to a "possible B and E (breaking and entering) in progress, 513 S. Baldwin (St.), across from Spaight (Street). Caller can hear someone in the house."

The dispatcher tells police that the "caller heard someone come in the front door; husband went down to see what was going on. She's still upstairs with four kids."

The dispatcher also relays to the police unit responding to the scene that the "husband is wearing a gray T-shirt and plaid pajama bottoms."

Next, the police unit at the scene tells dispatch, "shots fired, suspect down." To listen to the 911 dispatch audio, click here.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wray said since Heimsness was exonerated, none of the past incidents came into play in the investigation.

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