A judge on Tuesday barred the Madison Police and Fire Commission from acting on a citizen complaint against a Madison officer who fatally shot a man last year, effectively ending an excessive force complaint brought by roommates of the man.
Dane County Circuit Judge John Albert issued a preliminary injunction that will remain in effect until Nov. 26. The injunction bars the PFC from taking any action in the complaint, which alleges that Stephen Heimsness violated departmental policy when he shot Paul Heenan on South Baldwin Street on Nov. 9.
The complaint was filed by Heenan’s roommates: Nathan and Amelia Royko Maurer.
Heimsness fatally shot Heenan, 30, after police were called for a reported intruder at a home. Heenan, who was intoxicated, had gone into the wrong home.
Reviews by Madison police and the Dane County District Attorney’s Office cleared Heimsness of wrongdoing, but Chief Noble Wray later sought his resignation on 118 violations of departmental policy unrelated to the shooting.
Heimsness agreed to resign from the department effective Nov. 23, though he is no longer a commissioned police officer and is being paid from accumulated sick leave until his resignation is effective. Once he resigns, the PFC would have no jurisdiction over him.
Madison lawyer Michael Short, who represented the Royko Maurers before the PFC, said he understands and respects Albert’s decision but is “extremely disappointed that we’ll be unable to continue forward with our efforts to hold Officer Heimsness accountable for his actions last Nov. 9.”
Short said the couple’s disappointment “is compounded by the fact that the PFC is the only legitimate forum available to average citizens in the city of Madison if they feel they’ve been aggrieved by an officer.”
Short said it’s also troubling that Heimsness continues to draw a paycheck despite never having to face the PFC and give a full account of his actions.
The only avenue for the Royko Maurers at this point would be an appeal to the state Court of Appeals, a decision that will be made in the near future, Short said.
Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, which represented Heimsness, said he believes Albert made the “right call.”
“We’re very pleased he did the right thing,” Palmer said.
Palmer said Heimsness has filed an application for disability for post-traumatic stress disorder related to the shooting and continues to receive medical treatment for it.
Although Albert did not specifically rule on the issue, Palmer said that there’s medical evidence that subjecting Heimsness to proceedings before the PFC could worsen his condition.
In his ruling, Albert said that he found it was likely that Heimsness would prevail on the merits of his case against the PFC, and that in any case the complaint would become moot once Heimsness formally resigns on Nov. 23.
In the meantime, Heimsness faces a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last month on behalf of Heenan’s estate.