Seventeen months ago Paul Heenan was shot and killed by a Madison police officer. When an investigation conducted internally by the department cleared the officer, Heenan’s friends started asking questions.
“We had questions that weren’t answered and they seemed to us, as rational people, rational questions,” said Nate Royko Maurer, a friend of Heenan’s.
On the night of the shooting Heenan had mistakenly entered a neighbor’s home. That neighbor called police to report an intruder had entered their home. While police were responding the neighbor realized it was Heenan and was helping to get him home.
When the officer arrived, he said Heenan, who was unarmed came at him. Heenan was shot and killed.
Heenan’s friends started to push for a change in the way officer involved deaths are investigated. A bi-partisan bill, Assembly Bill 409, has passed the Wisconsin legislature. It will require investigations to include two individuals from outside the police agency. One of those outside individuals must serve as the lead investigator.
“Bringing two people in from the outside is, for right now, as good as it is going to get. It is way more than Paul had, it is way more than Derek Williams had, it is way more than Michael Bell had,” said Amelia Royko Maurer, a friend of Heenan’s.
Derek Williams was suffocated in the back seat of a police car in Milwaukee in 2011 and Michael Bell Jr. was killed by a Kenosha police officer in front of his home in 2004. Bell was unarmed.
A public opinion poll conducted by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association indicated 81 percent of people in Wisconsin support independent investigations of officer-involved deaths.
Assembly Bill 409 is currently awaiting signature by Gov. Scott Walker. The governor said he doesn’t have any major policy problems with the bill, but is asking legal counsel to review the language of the bill before deciding whether or not to sign it.