[This letter was written by Amelia and Nate Royko Maurer, who were close friends with Paulie Heenan. Paulie had recently moved in with them and was on his way to their home when he was fatally shot by Madison Police Officer Stephen Heimsness. – Editors]
Dear Mayor Soglin and City Attorney Michael May,
We write again because we have grave concerns about the handling of the Paul Heenan shooting case. Forgive us the bluntness of the following questions; we are not in a polite frame of mind. Attempting to get answers is exhausting. Attempting to find your leadership in all of this, Mayor Soglin, is painful.
The search for answers requires us, Paul’s friends and family, to postpone grieving our dear friend so that we have the energy to fight for justice. This process steals time away from our living loved ones. We continue because we believe there is work yet undone. We still keep on, despite the fact that our family alone has endured three funerals and two separate hospitalizations in the past one and a half months.
The legal jiu-jitsu the city is forcing us to play to get the answers we seek is good for no one, but we will persist because everything we are asking for is indisputably good for your families, good for your neighbors, good for your city and good for you. Our friend Paulie is dead and gone forever, and yet even now his father is about the business of helping to change the way cases like this are handled in the future.
Mr. May, with regard to your recent memorandum to Mayor Soglin outlining the possibility of seeking further independent investigation and review of Paul’s shooting by officer Heimsness, we thank you for taking the time to consider how the Madison Police Department handles officer-involved shootings. There is one observation you make that we wish to single out, however. Your acceptance of the MPD version of what renders a review or investigation “independent.” Your statement referring to the involvement of the county, the DOJ and the D.A. was, verbatim, “Thus, there has been, at some level, independent review by three independent entities looking at the incident.”
By what criteria do you measure “independence” and, by extension, “impartiality”? How can you honestly believe that friends who work amongst one another – some of whom have helped win cases for each other, some of whom have saved each others’ lives, many of whom belong to the same unions, live in the same city and pass each other in the same courthouse hallways – how can these people be expected to reliably and impartially investigate one another for wrongdoing? Should these people be put into the position of investigating the possibility of a colleague’s wrongdoing when their conclusions could result in a colleague’s dismissal or criminal prosecution? When they could face the reprisals of their fellow co-workers or fraternal organizations? Obviously, we say no.
We take issue with your assertion that the Dane County Sheriff’s Department and Dane County District Attorney’s office are independent enough to answer the
obvious need for complete impartiality in this case.
There are a number of details that leave us deeply unsettled. We mention here only a few of them:
1) We learned from Paul’s father’s interview that the medical examiner’s report showed Paul Heenan had bullet holes through his hands.
2) We have also seen in the short parts of Kevin O’Malley’s video statement that have been released to the public, Kevin observed Paulie looking over his shoulder at the second officer on the scene, as he was backing away from officer Heimsness, and, prior to being shot, put his hands in front of his chest and crouched down. What are we to make of that? I can tell you what most people will make of it: This was a reckless shooting of an unarmed man who was complying with police orders.
3) Why not re-holster the gun? What about weapon retention? What about the use of force continuum described under Policy 6-200 in the MPD Policy Manual? These seemingly insignificant details matter, as do many other inexplicably withheld details. They should sway you to seek a more complete truth.
Forget the potential civil judgment and disgruntled unions. Our severely conflicted system for investigating potential police misconduct has left us with many unknowns. At this point, accepting the exoneration of Officer Heimsmess requires more faith than a new-age religion.
It is also telling to note that, while the MPD and D.A. apparently have no problem finding credible a 20-day post-incident statement from an officer after he has had the opportunity to seek union counseling, they rush to cast doubt on the testimony of an eyewitness gathered less than a couple of weeks after the incident. This is an eyewitness, mind you, who has no motive for telling anything but the truth about what he saw, heard, and experienced that night.
If this doesn’t reek of a double standard then we are not thinking critically enough. We have many great people on our city’s police force. However, we seem to set records for how anachronistically our police department investigates possible misconduct. You do no favors to the community or these good officers by maintaining a system riddled by an inescapable appearance of bias.
While you can cite the existence of the Police and Fire Commission as an independent judicial body, the fact remains that they cannot conduct investigations on their own so the information available to them is subject to the biases baked into any internal police investigation. Again, it is telling that a reversal of a ruling by a police commission, police department or inquest cannot be found in this state since 1890.
Enough is enough.
It is time for thoughtful inquiry and much needed change. It is time for evolution and accountability. It is time to stop forcing the Heenan family to grieve while fighting for transparency and rational compassionate thought.
We ask that an impartial, independent, extra-agency body be formed to investigate this case, perhaps informed by consultation with other state law enforcement oversight bodies familiar with such practices. Please, at the very least include on your review panel former MPD officers David Couper, Cheri Maples and Herman Goldstein. Go over the complete details of this case with them. These experts can lead you to a conclusion that reflects a justice we can all recognize as unimpeachable. As far as we’re concerned, the sooner this can happen, the better for everyone.
Finally, we ask that in addition to exploring a new system for truly impartial investigations, you review Michael Bell Sr’s. Chief Shield Firearms Discharge Review Board concept copied below. It is but one example of an impartial system for investigating and reviewing an officer involved shooting.
Amelia and Nathan Royko Maurer
Chief Shield Firearms Discharge Review Board
The Chief Shield Review Board consists of a five member panel composed of two police chiefs or assistant police chiefs, two criminal justice professors and one judge or civil rights attorney, all either active or retired, who are appointed by the Wisconsin Attorney General to review a police incident that has resulted in a serious injury or fatality. The police chief of the municipality in which a firearms discharge has occurred would not be allowed to serve on the panel to review his/her own organization.
In addition, a special prosecutor needs to be assigned to the Attorney General’s office that is removed from direct election pressure to prosecute any findings by the five member board.
Professionals in law enforcement must review law enforcement. In order to maintain objectivity, local law enforcement, with the assistance of outside law enforcement, would conduct the investigation and pass the detailed investigative findings to the Chief Shield Review Board for analysis and recommendations.
After the CSRB review is complete, the Board passes its findings to the Attorney General (special prosecutor), the local chief or sheriff and the District Attorney for accolades or, if necessary, disciplinary or criminal charges. The benefits include the following:
• A senior elected official is directly held accountable for state law enforcement culture;
• Law Enforcement reviews itself (professional external review);
• The District Attorney and the local police chief are removed from the pressures of making objective decisions affecting current organizational and voter/union relationships;
• The review process involves many external and internal personnel to ensure the integrity, objectivity, and fairness of the process;
• This process establishes checks and balances assuring the highest standards in training/culture.