Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Nobody Should Have Died That Night 3 Years Ago

On an early November morning three years ago, Madison musician Paul Heenan was stumbling home after a late-night gig and, apparently, some post-gig libations. He walked a few blocks and stumbled up the steps to what he thought was his near-east-side home. Except he was drunk and didn’t realize it wasn’t his house.

The owners of the home Paulie, as his friends called him, stumbled into, were roused by the noise and called 9-1-1 thinking a burglar was in their home. A few moments later, they went downstairs and saw their neighbor – Paulie – and told him he was in the wrong house.

Paulie walked out onto the front lawn as the cops arrived and approached him, weapons drawn. The owner of the house yelled to the cops that it was OK, that the guy was a neighbor who was drunk and stumbled into the wrong house.

Former Madison cop Steven Heimsness approached Paulie, and ordered him to the ground. Paulie got combative and – according to Heimsness – went for his gun. Heimness shot Heenan. Three times. Center mass. Paulie bled out and died.

Heimsness was drummed out of the police force a few months after the incident. He was never charged with anything. But, the cops got rid of him anyway.

And the incident prompted groundbreaking new laws about how police shootings are investigated in Wisconsin. Outside agencies now do the follow-up investigations, not the police department.

Paulie’s family sued, and now, nearly three years later, have won a 2.3 million dollar settlement, which the lawyers say is the largest settlement for a police shooting in state history. The City Attorney predictably said they could have won the case, had it gone to trial, but…roll of the dice, avoids years of litigation, and all that.

The attorneys for the Heenan family predictably said the money won’t bring Paulie back, but will help the family deal with their loss and suffering, and add to the national dialogue now going on regarding cops killing people.

When the news story about the 2.3 million dollar settlement went up on social media, the predictable factions divided and spewed their hate: “anybody that goes for a cop’s gun deserves to die” and horseshit similar to that no-brain reaction.

Here’s the thing: any cop who can’t subdue a drunken young man who goes for his gun, without killing him, should not be wearing a badge or carrying a gun. That person needs a great deal more training, or, shouldn’t have been allowed to swear the oath to protect and serve in the first place.

Cops have an often impossibly difficult job to do, and sometimes have to make life-or-death decisions instantaneously. Before we let anyone become a cop, we need to carefully screen that person, determine to the best of our ability that their mindset really is to protect and serve, and then give that person the absolute best training we can to deal with situations like Paulie’s.

Paulie should not have died early the morning of November 9, 2102.

But his death brought about huge changes in the way Wisconsin deals with police shootings. Hopefully, this settlement will bring some peace to Paulie’s remaining family members and friends.


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