Police expert says community needs to look at intoxication level in police shooting

2013-01-11T17:00:00Z Police expert says community needs to look at intoxication level in police shootingSTEVEN ELBOW | The Capital Times | selbow@madison.com madison.com

It looks like the community will be divided for some time over how justified the police shooting of Paul Heenan was, what with friends and family and others calling for further investigation.

But Mike Scott has a question that hasn’t really been addressed yet.

“How did this young man get so intoxicated?” he asks.

Scott isn’t just some armchair quarterback. Nor is he a cheerleader for the police who’s trying to blame the situation on the guy who got shot. He’s a former Madison cop, former Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., police chief, and a current expert on policing at the UW Law School.

Oh, and he once co-authored a 600-page review of police use of deadly force, which was at the time the definitive work on the subject.

And he wants to make sure the question of how Heenan, a 30-year-old musician and sound engineer, got so drunk — his blood-alcohol level was 0.21 — that he barged into the wrong house, jostled with the homeowner, then threw himself at a cop with a gun.

“Nobody ever says, ‘Where did this guy get that drunk and who facilitated that? Who was serving him that much alcohol?’” Scott says.

He adds that he's not trying to take the focus away from further investigation of the officer's use of deadly force, which he's all for. He just doesn't want anger at the Madison Police Department to cloud the fact that Heenan's intoxication level was a huge factor in the shooting.

"Maybe that story comes later," he says, "but my concern is that it doesn’t come at all."

Police have not released any information on where Heenan did his drinking on Nov. 9 before officer Stephen Heimsness shot him three times at close range. But he was known to frequent the Williamson Street bars near his house, two doors down from the one he mistakenly entered at about 2:45 a.m.

Scott says he obviously was too drunk to know what he was doing.

Police say Heimsness arrived on the scene after getting a report of a burglary at a family's residence. He came upon Heenan and the homeowner involved in what appeared to be a scuffle outside, pulled his gun and ordered the two to the ground. Heenan, however, shoved the officer and flailed his hands at the gun, which police say led Heimsness to believe Heenan was trying to disarm him.

The time that elapsed between when Heimsness got out of the car to when he fired at Heenan: 15 seconds.

At Heenan’s blood-alcohol content — well over twice the legal limit for driving — Scott says most people would have been unconscious.

“In all probability he was virtually incoherent, which would explain how he ends up going into the wrong house, how he doesn’t fully recognize his own neighbor, how he doesn’t recognize or appreciate what a police officer is telling him to do, and why he would come after a police officer’s gun,” he says. “To get to a blood-alcohol content of .21, that takes a lot of drinking.”

Putting aside the matter of whether or not Heimsness was justified in shooting Heenan, there’s no doubt that Heenan’s intoxication played a part. If a cop pulls a gun and orders someone to the ground, “nine times out of 10 that’s going to work,” Scott says. “If you point a gun at two individuals and order them to the ground, they’re going to do it. This is that one time out of 10 that because of intoxication that didn’t work.”

He says that with debate raging over the justifiability of the shooting, maybe the community needs to have a conversation about drinking as well.

“We know that all kinds of bad things can happen to somebody that gets to that level of intoxication,” he says. “It’s almost a matter of dumb luck as to which bad thing’s going to happen. You’re going to get hit by a car, you’re going to pass out and choke on your own vomit, you’re going to stumble into somebody’s house, you’re going to pass out in the bushes. These things happen in Madison, and they happen with a good deal of regularity. And this case just ended up in probably the worst possible outcome one could imagine.”

Attempts were unsuccessful Friday afternoon to reach a member of the city's Alcohol License Review Committee to see if that panel might get involved in the matter.

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(26) Comments

  1. amigay
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    amigay - January 16, 2013 7:17 am
    It's known as "professional courtesy."
  2. amigay
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    amigay - January 16, 2013 7:15 am
    How do you do a high speed chase in a parking garage?
  3. amigay
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    amigay - January 16, 2013 7:13 am
    So the only way to disarm someone 'that drunk' is to kill them? Looks to me like the cop panicked and did not know how to handle a clearly resolvable incident by non-violent means. Then again, I can't say I have ever known a police dept to hire the best talent.
  4. array1
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    array1 - January 12, 2013 11:29 pm
    If it takes 1 shot to put someone down then at some point successive shots are not really self-defense anymore. IMO.
  5. Sam Stevenson
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    Sam Stevenson - January 12, 2013 3:41 pm
    After further thought I've come to realize just how awful the implications of Mr. Elbow's argument is. They have essentially been addressed here already here so I'll just add the following observations.

    This is the same obnoxious, sophomoric and self-righteous poppycock far too many white 'liberal' Madisonians of a certain age are so proud to make. And yet they haven't the slightest idea of the genuine magnitude and endemic nature of the drinking culture in this city and part of the country. This is clearly evidenced by the notable absence of any workable solutions to this problem. My own thoughts on solutions are for another time but the most important point is this:

    *Mr. Elbow implies here that Paul Heenan may have deserved to be shot because he drank too much. If you have friends and/or family in this city - and if you yourself are not a teetotaler -, does that implicit conclusion make you feel comfortable?*
  6. axolotlsx5
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    axolotlsx5 - January 12, 2013 11:44 am
    the cop knew this guy was drunk and alot smaller so why was the gun even drawn, the cop carries a tazer doesnt he and how many other times has this same cop done this. should not be on the police force and should be charged with murder, here,s another example of the police department of madison. what charges were made on the female cop who was smoking crack while on duty, she gets fired and a week later is hired as a cop in plattview wis where she is busted again for smoking crack while on patrol, never seen where she was charged with anything. pretty much shows how cops no matter where stick by the sides of other cops no matter what.
  7. JoeBiteme
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    JoeBiteme - January 12, 2013 9:57 am
    This was an unfortunate accident. It's just a given that the cop was a loose canon.. Nobody considers the cop having to relive this nightmare everyday of his life. I doubt he joined the force to kill people. However, that will not bring the dead person back. Could it have been handled differently. Perhaps. But there was only a split second to decide.
  8. Sam Stevenson
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    Sam Stevenson - January 12, 2013 9:35 am
    If the author did indeed attempt to contact a member of the ALRC, I would argue he did not try very hard. This article was naive, distracting from the issue and painfully one-sided. Rarely does Mr. Elbow write this poorly, however, and I hope he comes to see how useless, if not counter-productive, this piece was. Over intoxication was clearly an aspect of this incident but this sort of arm-chair quarterbacking is an embarrassment.
  9. sarge
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    sarge - January 12, 2013 9:14 am
    I would ad that this situation remids me a little of the poor crazy guy MPD shot in that bathroom on willy street-allthough he did lunge at the cops with a knife, there was really no good reason to force the confrontation with that guy by unlocking the bathroom door and trying to get him out of there. somethimes I think that some officers are too caught up in the need to have instant compliance. I say this as someone who has worked with violent often intoxicated or phychotic folks attacking me on a regular basis but since society deems these people to be first and foremost medically ill, shooting or beating them is never an option. Our mind set is I suspect much different than someone would have if they were armed and felt that failure to control a situation by any means would be a weakness
  10. sarge
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    sarge - January 12, 2013 9:07 am
    The militarization of the police has shown to be a poor choice for the most part-while all the training can come in handy on a rare occasion ; it would seem to me that mostly its a cause for escalation of situations that could be handled differently-it seems that the training takes a lot of decision making out of the picture, or makes unneeded violent escalation ok as long as it follows the rules. Sadly once you have a gun in your hand your options in dealing with a percieved threat change. I think all the folks who got CC permits and now carry weapons have put themselves in a position of having their game changed in situations where they percieve threat-in fact I suspect that having a gun might make you over estimate the level of threat present in your day to day life and I fear that we will see some ugly results from that but I digress. I still would hope that the police would be able to judge a situation on it's merits and not use every bit of force his/her training allows or find him/herself taking the wrong fork i n the road because of rote following of their weapons training

    That said, In the case of this officer; it's pretty clear that his history shows he was willing to go very near the line of acceptable use of force or perhaps right over it . It would be interesting for instance to know exactly what the situation was that caused him to shoot out a car's tires in a public ramp. I suspect it was simply because the person operating the car didn't do what he was told i.e .didn't stop. In the case of a high speed chase we expect cops to not continue a persuit into areas of high traffic density and one would suspect that shooting a gun in a cement public ramp ovr a compliance issue would be much the same as persuing a vehicle at high speed into a school zone.

    Another though tI've had is that I'm pretty sure that If I was this officer and I was a decent normal human, I'd probably resign and find a nice job as a gardener or something. It doesnt seem like that will be the case but to me he's done, washed up and useless, either because he's a dangerous idiot and a liar or will be wrecked d/t the mental scarring/self doubt that killing a small drunken unarmed man in such a situation would normally bring about.
  11. number6
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    number6 - January 12, 2013 8:29 am
    I, for one, in no way blame the staff or management of any place that the deceased may have been drinking that night. I get myself drunk, I am responsible. Really I was just reacting to the question '“How did this young man get so intoxicated?” However, I suppose Mr. Scott was using it as shorthand for a larger, more complex concern.
  12. Retired PE
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    Retired PE - January 12, 2013 7:39 am
    O.K. I can agree that some investigation needs to be done as to which bars served this guy; however, I am quite sure that this in not a unique event in the Madison area because if the guy was not acting or appearing drunk within the bars, the servers would have had no reason to cut him off and get him home. However, I still say that police training has to have different techniques to deal with drunken people versus deranged people versus regular folks on the street. Pulling the gun out first to deal with a drunk guy should not be the first resort but the last. If this were the case when dealing with all drunk people in this state (known to have a high degree of a drinking culture), then few people would be left, especially on Badger and Packer game days!
  13. Theo
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    Theo - January 12, 2013 6:36 am
    Why would the policeman get close enough to a suspect to fear his weapon would be taken away within 15 seconds of getting out of his car?

    And end up shooting him from 5 feet away?

    I read the official report and it just doesn't pass the smell test.
  14. ThirtySeven
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    ThirtySeven - January 12, 2013 12:16 am
    I appreciate Cowboys comment. Shooting an unarmed intoxicated person doesn't pass any smell test. The officer escalated an unarmed incident of little proportion to death in 15 seconds. Isn't it ironic and sad to find out a similar unarmed person was shot on the same date a few years back in WI ??? Sad, but time for a wake up call. ------------
    Kenosha police shot Bell's son, Michael E. Bell, in the head in his driveway after a traffic stop. He was unarmed. The Kenosha County DA declined to charge the officers involved. A department investigation ruled the shooting justified. Bell’s family received a $1.75 million dollar settlement and is using those funds to get their message out.
  15. nan3
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    nan3 - January 11, 2013 11:34 pm
    Great comments on here tonight. This is a rogue cop with a history. The homeowner tells quite a different story and I believe the homeowner's account 100%. I feel very sorry for he and his wife. The other officer states she did not observe Paul going for the gun but didn't see what really happened-what?? I would think if her fellow officer were in such danger, she would certainly be paying attention. This is a cover-up, in cop-speak, very "hinky". I have lost all respect for Chief Wray and the department in general. This needs to be set right, prosecute this scumbag. At least strip him of any authority over other human beings. C'mon Wray!!
  16. BarneyBielema
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    BarneyBielema - January 11, 2013 11:24 pm
    Great article. And we really can't blame a local establishment. The guy made the choice to go out, drink far too much, and then act foolish. Shows what can happen. What if instead he ran into the road and got hit by a car or something? Regardless, he was asking for trouble.
  17. what justice
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    what justice - January 11, 2013 10:36 pm
    Having been a bartender in this town who was famous for cutting people off, I am well aware of the difficulties involved in handling drunk people. There is more pressure on bartenders to continue serving when they suspect that drinking more is a bad idea than people realize. As well, a customer might be drinking out of sight of the bartender and someone else might be buying his drinks. As I have heard the story, employees of the bar gave the victim a ride home—in the real world that is going WAY beyond ordinary expectations for taking care of your customers.

    I have also heard that the house—where he was dropped off—is the same color and similar in appearance to his own house. So, mistakes that were easy to make and which are made hundreds of times every single night in this city, were made. This brings us to the cops ‘handling drunk people’ part of our story.

    As I understand it, the cop shows up, confronts the homeowner, who is trying to walk Paul home, and Paul, thinking that some sort of violence might be going on. The homeowner complies, but screams “he is a neighbor” repeatedly at the cop, clearly indicating that he did not consider Paul a threat. When Paul did what he did (which I consider undefined) in the general direction of the cop, this is what happened: the cop misinterpreted the situation; HE PANICKED; he displayed his weapon in such a way that it MAY have become a target of Paul’s attention; he became worried that a tiny, incoherent person might be a danger to a much larger, professionally trained police officer; he shot Paul—AND THEN HE SHOT HIM TWO MORE TIMES.

    Whatever mistakes might have been made by the bar staff were more than made up for by escorting their customer home. I would wager my house that they had to deal with peculiar behavior from Paul between the bar and dropping him off. I would wager a similar amount that they handled his behavior with sensitivity and compassion. It is virtually certain that they earn less than $10/hr. and had only their native understanding of human nature to guide them in dealing with Paul.

    The cop had the best training the public could provide. He is a well–compensated professional. We (taxpayers) gave him a gun and a badge, trust and authority.

    That he shot an innocent, unarmed citizen ONCE was an egregious error that indicates his unsuitability for the role of being a police officer. That he shot that poor kid TWO MORE TIMES signifies that he is criminally incompetent.

    Can this PLEASE be the last article about this topic that implies having too many drinks could be a capital offense?
  18. River
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    River - January 11, 2013 10:34 pm
    Sure, let's blame the bartenders armed with alchohol instead of the deputy armed with a gun. Idiot.
  19. Cowboy99540
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    Cowboy99540 - January 11, 2013 10:34 pm
    Dear Readers:

    I'm telling you, that when I was young and growing up here, there was rowdiness and drunkenness personified going on all over Madison. It was a wide spread epidemic back then, on the north and south sides, where I grew up while knowing no racial or socio-economic boundaries.

    It was also prevalent on the east side, where I cut my teeth while attending high school, and was rampant on the west side as well. It was nothing but pure unadulterated rowdiness that was mixed in with the p*ss and vinegar found exclusively in the lower working/middle-class ranks within the locales mentioned above.

    In all of that, there were fights galore happening all over the place and I do not exaggerate, my friends not one bit.

    There were fist fights after high school / UW- Madison football games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, there were fights at high school dances, in the local taverns all throughout the city and downtown, there were fights after bar time, out in the streets, in alleys, on front lawns, and at after bar time parties, etc.

    How do I know?

    I know, because I was at a lot of them, and was actually in more than my share when I was a young man coming up here in Madison. We weren't a peaceful group of youngsters by any stretch of the imagination.

    I learned at a young age to how get out of a place before the cops got there and was seldom around to be fingered for arrest. I'll also admit that often times, I was drunk or on my way to being drunk when the fisticuffs broke out. Hell, I sometimes started it!

    So why aren't more of us guys from back then dead from police gunfire?

    Well it's like I said earlier, in describing my own experiences as a law enforcement officer.

    The cops back when I was growing up in this town, first on the south side and then on the far north side, as a teen attending Madison East High School, were for the most part the real genuine article,

    They were often from the same rough and tumble of the lower working class as those they policed. They were also well acquainted and used to mixing it up on Saturday nights if necessary to break up a big brawl between local rowdies.

    I can name a lot of those older police officers, guys like Norm Wright, Frank McCoy, Cliff Fingers, Willard Sprague, John Winston, and those who followed and were worthy as their replacements. I mean cops like Bart Kenny, Freddy Fuller, "Kung Fu" Tony Jerona, and Mikey "SWAT MAN" Hughes, all come to mind and who could get your attention real quick without a weapon drawn.

    These Dudes would have holstered their (sh*t) weapon and got out their night sticks (may be not Tony J, because he wouldn't have needed a night stick) and started in on your behind.

    After a minute or so you would have been in cuffs and stuffed in the back seat of a Madison Squad car and headed to jail or detox, alive and breathing with no visible evidence of having been shot three times through your chest.

    Sadly, however, today MPD hires a lot of wimpy cops who couldn't punch their way out of a wet paper bag and would have been hard pressed to last in one of our "knock down drag out brawls" back when I was in high school.

    The Sheriff is a little better due to the jail situation but they also hire a few who can't fight worth a lick either now-a-days. It's a sad state of affairs it is, my friends. Something I never thought I'd live to see.

    So when you have a situation like the one Officer Heimsness was confronted with, which was a drunken and belligerent subject that morning, what was called for was a cop like the bunch I previously named above, myself included having been trained by two of the officers mentioned from that rather notorious group of hardcore street cops, I so admired.

    Any of them would have gotten there that morning and kicked some booty,restored order and taken the guy for a short ride uptown.

    Cops like that are practically extinct in cities like Madison these days, because they are shoved aside in favor of the perceived more well healed and better educated candidates who fear being disarmed by a drunken subject.

    Gone today is the working-class street smart ethos and bigger than life tough guy personas that endeared guys like those mentioned above to me, as well as to many other young toughs, which garnered them our utmost respect and admiration.

    For the most part, I cant stand this new age breed of well bred cops who can't fight that are here busy smelling up my dear city with what appear to be unwarranted killings of drunks.

    A former cop who never would've fired on an unarmed drunken subject.
  20. midwestguy
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    midwestguy - January 11, 2013 10:11 pm
    The other "elephant in the room" is that on any given weekend, there are hundreds of college students with the same level of inebriation. If any of them were substituted for the decedent, would this officer shoot any of THEM, given the same circumstances? We should all be asking whether this officer's track record and reaction to events leading to the shooting should be given further scrutiny by a third party.
  21. Katnow
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    Katnow - January 11, 2013 7:54 pm
    The only point made here is that this guy was so drunk , even if he had been able to get the cops gun he wasn't coherent enough to aim it. I'm pretty sure he wasn't going for the gun and I'm pretty sure that based on how drunk this guy was the cop easily could have taken him down with his night stick. He could have waited for back up. This cop was just waiting for a moment like this. He should be in jail.
  22. DaleB
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    DaleB - January 11, 2013 6:58 pm
    I am glad to see this issue brought up. I agree that police involved shootings should be scrutinized, but it seems in the city of Madison the officer is assumed to guilty of a unjustified shooting. We all have to recognize that Paulie was responsible for how much he drank and all the events leading up to him getting shot. Downtown Madisonians don't want to point the finger at the bartenders or Paulie for getting drunk, just the poor cop who had to repond to the call. The issue of the size of the Paulie doesn't matter. If person takes a gun from a cop they can hurt others with it. The cop has to assume that the person lunging for the gun is able to get it. Paulie could be black belt for all we know. Also the cop doesn't know is the suspect was on crack, bath salts, or some other mind altering subtance.
  23. number6
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    number6 - January 11, 2013 6:52 pm
    Oh please. Nobody asks because its obvious: go to a bar and drink a lot. Nearly any adult can do it on any given night, at nearly any bar. Sheesh.
  24. ingriddy
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    ingriddy - January 11, 2013 6:35 pm
    Always important to raise the level of discussion about alcohol abuse. Total agreement with Scott on that. However we can't let this sidetrack us from the big issue of the police capability of handling severely intoxicated people--especially very small people like Paulie who clearly was not armed--without killing the person within 15 SECONDS. Does the public know that Paulie (confirmed) was shot with his hands crossed over his chest? There is disagreement between witnesses whether Heenan grabbed an arm and went for the gun.
    Practically every young person has an embarrassing night when they were terribly intoxicated. Should all these people be exposed to the possibility of being shot? From those close to Paulie, what's know is that Paulie was not a habitual drunk. If attention is drawn to the establishments that served him, then we distracting from our opportunity to improve police procedures. Indeed the most troubling aspect of MPD's finding is that it leaves no room for continuous improvement for police response and training. To settle for "this was the only option" for the officer is to set an incredibly low bar for our police force.
  25. Timoteo
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    Timoteo - January 11, 2013 6:28 pm
    Well put, and Yes, it sure reflects badly on experienced officers who deal with the same situation in quite a different and more subdued manner...
  26. Weirdwise
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    Weirdwise - January 11, 2013 5:24 pm
    Great observations by an expert. But the question/concern remains. How could the cop fail to assess that he was dealing with an incoherent drunk? The neighbor was trying to tell the cop that. Anyone that intoxicated is pretty evidently so more a threat to himself than anyone else, unless he is 6'8" and 260 lbs., which this kid wasn't. Instead, it's 15 seconds to do as I say make my day. Every good cop in this city, and that is most of them, will suffer public doubts and scorn because this cowboy shot a drunk kid.
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