Madison's police chief said one of his officers acted reasonably when he shot and killed a man who tried to grab his gun in a scuffle.
Chief Noble Wray told reporters Wednesday that Officer Stephen Heimsness will return to patrol duty after an internal investigation exonerated him. Wray said the investigation determined that Heimsness acted in compliance with police department policies and training.
Investigators said 30-year-old Paul Heenan was drunk when he entered the home of a neighbor, Kevin O'Malley, early on Nov. 9. O'Malley went downstairs to investigate while his wife, Megan O'Malley, called 911 to report a break-in.
O'Malley was escorting Heenan back to Heenan's home. Heimsness arrived to find Heenan and the neighbor in a scuffle, pulled his gun and ordered them down.
Wray said Heenan disobeyed and grabbed at the officer's gun. He said the officer believed he was in imminent danger of being disarmed, so he opened fire.
WISC-TV has obtained an audio recording of a phone call between a Dane County 911 dispatcher and Megan O'Malley. In the call, the three shots fired by Heimsness at Heenan can be heard as the dispatcher talks to Megan O'Malley.
In the report released Wednesday, Wray stated that it’s undisputed that Heenan didn't comply with Heimsness' commands and became physically engaged with Heimsness in the incident in the 500 block of Baldwin Street.
Wray 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 the neighbor, Kevin O'Malley, explaining to officers the details of how the shooting occurred.
O'Malley said Heimness, after the deadly shots were fired, looked to the 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 at the news conference 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.
"When we have limited information or unknown information, to start at a lower level force where we cannot respond effectively puts the officer at a disadvantage, and the disadvantage cannot just hurt the officer, it could also hurt the public," Tieu said.
He and Sgt. Jason Freedman performed a demonstration showing how long an officer has to react in a deadly force situation.
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," Tieu said.
"I deeply regret the tragic circumstances leading to the death of Paul Heenan," Wray said.
Wray released the 40-page internal investigation summary for public viewing, which he said has never been done before.
"We'll do everything we can to build community trust," Wray said. "This is the business of policing, unfortunate as it may be, that from time to time, a deadly force situation may arise where a police officer may have to take the life of someone else to save someone else, or to save himself."
Dane County prosecutors have cleared Heimsness any criminal wrongdoing in connection with Heenan's shooting.
Family and friends of Heenan said the shooting was unjustified. They said they are saddened and disappointed by the Madison Police Department's conclusion and also concerned.
"I am actually a little surprised at the relative absence of any disciplinary action at all, and what I would assume is the likelihood that officer Heimsness will be back on patrol at some point, that makes me nervous," said Nathan Royko Maurer, Heenan's former roommate.
Jeff Scott Olson, an attorney for the Heenan family, said he wasn't surprised at all by the Police Department's conclusion and said he can now move forward.
"And finally we can put together everything from the Police Department with everything from our own investigation and make a recommendation to the family and act on their decision," Olson said.
In 2006, Olson represented a man who was reportedly kneed and kicked by Heimsness while being arrested at a downtown bar. While the Madison Police Department determined Heimsness acted within reason for the situation, the man involved received $27,000 in a settlement deal with the city of Madison.
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.
Heenan's sister,Emily Heenan, released a statement asking for an external review of the incident.
"Officer Heimsness is a danger to everyone. His past record and demeanor exemplifies the impulsiveness of his erratic work ethic. I would like to know if Mayor Paul Soglin trusts Officer Heimsness to be placed back to work on the streets of his city," she wrote.
Friends and the Heenan family are planning a rally this Saturday afternoon at the City-County Building. They said the decision to exonerate Heimsness sets a dangerous precedent and they want to question the events the city outlined Wednesday.