Madison Police Chief Noble Wray shared a key new detail Monday about the shooting that killed Madison resident Paulie Heenan. According to reports from officers and witnesses, Heenan grabbed one of the arresting officer's arms before being shot early Friday morning.
"The entire community is struggling with this particular case," Wray acknowledged at a news conference. "I have not reached any conclusions," he added.
The Madison Police Department's investigation is in progress. The Dane County Sheriff's Office is shadowing this investigation, and the District Attorney's office is conducting its own probe.
Before Wray spoke, police spokesperson Joel DeSpain distributed documents detailing two previous incidents involving Steve Heimsness, the officer who shot Heenan. In one 2001 incident, Heimsness was disciplined for firing his gun at a vehicle fleeing the Lake Street parking ramp. In another 2006 incident, MPD conducted an internal investigation to determine if Heimsness used excessive force when arresting an assault suspect at State Street Brats.
In the 2006 case, MPD found the allegations against Heimsness were "not sustained." Wray noted that "'not sustained' does not mean 'exonerated.'"
Wray focused on describing what happened within a few seconds early Friday morning, between when Heimsness pulled up to the 500 block of South Baldwin Street and when Heenan was pronounced dead at the scene. Wray's account was based on statements from Heimsness, fellow officer Stacy Troumbly, and a homeowner who tried to help Heenan get back to his house. Wray said that he did not know of any video footage of the encounter.
Wray said that a call came in at about 2:45 a.m. on Friday about a possible burglar. A woman could hear someone in her house. Her husband went downstairs and realized that Heenan, the intruder, was his neighbor and had entered the wrong house. Heenan may have let himself in with a key left outside.
When Heimsness arrived, the street was "very dark," and he saw two men "grappling," Wray said. Heimsness then pulled out his gun and ordered the two men to drop to the ground.
At this point, Wray said, the homeowner "disengaged" from Heenan and held his hands up. Wray said that Heenan then "swore at the officer and then quickly closed the distance of 15 to 20 feet." Heenan grabbed one of the officer's arms, Wray said, and appeared to be reaching for the officer's gun. Heimsness then fired three rounds.
"All of this happened very fast, just a matter of seconds, between [when] Officer Heimsness told Mr. Heenan to get down [to] when the shots were fired," Wray said.
Wray said it was "objectively reasonable" for Heimsness to pull out his gun when he did.
"Any time you get a citizen in close proximity to a police officer and their weapon is there, and the weapon becomes part of the issue in that close proximity, and it is an aggressive move, I think it does produce a deadly-force situation," Wray said.
Police have concluded that Heenan was not armed. He was carrying a pocketknife, but investigators have deemed that irrelevant to the situation. Wray speculated at the press conference that Heenan may have been intoxicated, but said that toxicology results have not come in yet.