About 250,000 emails generated by an online petition overwhelmed the city of Madison’s email system this week.
The emails were generated by a petition on the website change.org calling for Madison Police Chief Noble Wray to keep Officer Stephen Heimsness off the streets.
Heimsness was cleared of any wrongdoing after he shot and killed Paul Heenan, who was unarmed, on Madison's near east side on Nov. 9 while responding to what he thought was a burglary in progress.
It was later determined that Heenan, who was drunk, had entered a neighbor's house by mistake, prompting a 911 call of a reported break-in.
Heimsness remains on leave while three separate investigations of his conduct are under way.
The petition at change.org was set up by Heenan’s roommates, according to the website.
"The petition has proven to be very popular. The change.org/paulie address has been visited by almost 90,000 people so far, and people have been leaving lots of thoughtful comments," said Nate Royko Maurer, one of Heenan's roommates.
The large number of messages, from all over the country, delayed or blocked the city from getting other emails.
City officials said emails from the petition are now being sent to a separate account to prevent disruptions to the city's email system. They said the ability for change.org users to share via email and social media is what generated the thousands of emails. For a time the city had to block emails coming from the petition site.
In a statement released by the mayor's IT staff, emails from the petition will now be sent to a separate account, which concerns petition organizers.
"We don't want to misrepresent to the people who have signed on that their voices are being heard when in fact they're being dumped into some junk mail account," Royko Maurer said. "These are petition signers who voluntarily left their thoughts, and the thoughts were forwarded on to email addresses for the mayor, for the chief of police, for members of the Police and Fire Commission."
Petition organizers said their intent was never to shut down the city's email system. They said they just hope to start a dialogue with the city to ensure the petition's comments make it to right people.
Organizers have plans to deliver a physical copy of the petition to the city in the near future.