Amelia Royko Maurer is baffled by the inconsistencies she has witnessed in the Madison Police Department over the past nine months. Since the fatal shooting in November of her friend and former roommate Paul Heenan, she and her husband Nathan have tirelessly worked for the termination of Madison Police Officer Stephen Heimsness, who shot and killed Heenan amid controversial circumstances. They have also worked to reform the police department’s procedures for investigating officers’ conduct.
The Royko Maurers lodged a complaint June 22 to the Board of the Police and Fire Commission, a five body panel that can discipline law enforcement personnel. The commission held an initial hearing July 8. A second hearing took place Wednesday.
The Royko Maurers believe Heimsness violated two department policies that establish the circumstances in which officers may use deadly force over non-lethal options, such as Tasers. Depending on who you ask, the circumstances of Heenan’s shooting lend themselves to multiple interpretations.
Officer Heimsness was dispatched to the 500 block of South Baldwin Street Nov. 9, 2012 to a “burglary in progress.” Resident Megan O’Malley reported the burglary to 911 after hearing an intruder enter her home. Her husband Kevin investigated prior to law enforcement’s arrival. He found an intoxicated Heenan, who had mistakenly entered the O’Malleys’ home.
Recognizing Heenan, Kevin began to escort him to the Royko Maurers’ home, which was two doors down. Before entering the house, Heenan hesitated and came at Kevin, asking, “You wanna get weird?” A struggle between the men ensued on the sidewalk as Heenan pushed Kevin backward. Then Heimsness arrived, his gun drawn.
Heimsness ordered Heenan to stop. According to the original police report, Heenan confronted the officer and, as Heimsness has stated, attempted to grab his gun. Heimsness responded by shooting Heenan three times. Heenan died on the scene.
Heimsness was exonerated by an internal investigation conducted by the Madison Police Department. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne also reviewed the case. Despite Heimsness’ exoneration, the investigation unearthed incidents in which he sent hostile, sometimes racist or sexist, email messages, threatening colleagues with violence.
Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, who announced his retirement Tuesday, filed a complaint with the Police and Fire Commission June 21, asking for Heimsness’ firing based on 118 alleged violations of 13 department policies in the months leading up to the shooting. Ten days later, Heimsness agreed to resign. He remains an employee of the department until Nov. 23.
To the Royko Maurers, this outcome is unacceptable.
Filing a Complaint
In their complaint, the Royko Maurers claim Heimsness neither announced himself as a police officer upon his arrival to the scene nor chose the appropriate degree of force to use. By closing in on Heenan with his gun drawn, Amelia says Heimsness unnecessarily “created the ultimate situation where deadly force was needed.”
The police department has stated Heimsness was justified in initially drawing his weapon because he was informed by a police dispatcher that he was entering a burglary in progress, representing a “high risk” situation to his safety.
Amelia remains unconvinced. She notes it should have been evident to Heimsness that Heenan was not a burglar:
“Fifteen years on the force, and he’s answering robbery calls and dealing with drunks every single night, and he doesn’t have the sense to distinguish the difference between the two? Between a serious burglar … and a flailing defenseless drunk?”
The complaint also alleges the police department overlooked key details during their administrative review, including potential conflicts of interest that might have influenced internal reviewers’ assessments of the incident. The Royko Maurers have previously raised alarm over Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s ties to the Madison Police Department and Dane County Sheriff’s office.
Amelia hopes an investigation conducted by the commission will be fair since the commission operates outside the police department. Ideally, it will lead to permanent changes in the way investigations are handled.
“We want it to start with this case because we can’t determine what needs to change unless you do a failure analysis of the case that actually sparked this request for change,” she says.
Chief Wray has previously stated he is open to making changes, but not for the Heenan case.
Motions to Dismiss
At Wednesday’s Police and Fire Commission hearing, Heimsness’ attorneys, Andrew Schauer and James Palmer, II of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, submitted five motions, requesting that the commission dismiss the complaint.
Speaking on behalf of Heimsness, who did not attend the hearing due to post traumatic stress, Schauer questioned the commission’s authority to act against Heimsness. Schauer noted the commission only had the authority to discipline police officers.
“Because Heimsness’ titles, powers, duties as a police officer have already been removed … the PFC can’t proceed against him to issue this discipline,” Schauer said. “In fact, they should not even refer to him as a police officer.”
The Royko Maurers’ attorney, Michael Short, was perplexed by this reasoning because Heimsness remains on the police department’s payroll until Nov. 23, the date he officially resigns. As an employee of the police department, Short argued, Heimsness should be considered a police officer:
“If he wasn’t a police officer, why would staff attorneys from the Wisconsin Professional Police Association be providing representation of him if he wasn’t still a police officer?”
Schauer also argued the Royko Maurers lacked authority to issue a complaint because they were not Heenan’s family or next of kin, witnesses to the shooting or owners of the property where the shooting occurred.
“In this situation, unfortunately, the Maurers are friends of the affected person,” Schauer said. “They have no other connection or nexus to this case.”
Short responded in turn. He noted Heenan was the Royko Maurers’ tenant, provided them with childcare, collaborated with Amelia in musical performances and had pending contracts to do further work with her.
“Mr. Heenan died approximately 30 yards from their front step and he was headed to their home the night this happened,” he said. “If they don’t meet the definition of an aggrieved party, then who does meet the definition of an aggrieved party?”
On behalf the Royko Maurers, Short requested Heimsness’ immediate termination, expressing concern he might attempt in the future to find work as an officer.
Schauer said he Heimsness had no such wish.
Commission President George Kamperschroer said the commission would enter into deliberations that evening, and after consulting their attorney, Scott Herrick, would issue a written decision Monday whether to dismiss the Royko Maurers’ complaint.
Amelia remains hopeful.
“I think we have standing,” she says. “We want the public to see an analysis of the use of force policy … It’s worth sharing because this affects all of us.”
A version of this article appeared Aug. 10, 2013 on The Daily Page under the headline, “Madison Police and Fire Commission will rule on complaint against Stephen Heimsness in Paul Heenan shooting.”
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