Messages generated by an online petition on Change.org calling for Madison officials "to get police officer Stephen Heimsness off the streets of Madison" has overwhelmed the city's email system, forcing it to temporarily block emails from the site.
Heimsness shot and killed Paul Heenan on Nov. 9 while responding to a burglary call in East Madison. An intoxicated Heenan was unarmed but police say he charged Heimsness and reached for his gun. A neighbor present during the shooting has disputed some of those details.
Investigations by the city police and the Dane County District Attorney found Heimsness was justified in using deadly force in the incident. But that hasn't satisfied numerous residents, who have protested and are calling for Heimsness to be removed from the police force. Heimsness briefly returned to duty but was put back on administrative leave after the department began investigating three other complaints regarding the officer.
Rich Beadles from the city's Information Technology department says the city had received upwards of 250,000 emails through the site. The heavy traffic began to cause problems on Thursday, Jan. 31, as 170,000 email messages were queued up waiting to be delivered.
"It's competing with all the other email messages," Beadles says. "If you'd sent an email to the mayor, you'd be in line with those other 170,000 messages."
The petition isn't dated, but according to Change.org it had garnered 100 signatures by Jan. 25 and 75,000 by Feb. 1.
The city's IT department began blocking messages from the site on Thursday evening, but it still "took until Sunday afternoon until things got cleared out."
City staff set up a Gmail address and asked Change.org to begin directing the petitions there. A press release from the mayor's office states "City staff will continue to monitor the Gmail account."
Beadles says he can't recall another petition clogging the city's system like this. "Nothing like this that I can recall."