The family of Paul Heenan filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Madison, Police Chief Noble Wray and Officer Stephen Heimsness Thursday.
The suit was filed on what would have been Paul Heenan’s 31st birthday. The suit alleges Heimsness violated Heenan’s civil rights when he shot and killed him on Madison’s east side last November.
The lawsuit alleges Heimsness created the danger that he said led him to shoot a drunk and staggering Heenan last Nov. 8.
Heimsness said Heenan grabbed at his gun, but the lawsuit disputes that assertion. It states Heimsness approached too close to Heenan, who was suspected of breaking into a neighborhood home, and that he did not consider non-lethal alternatives.
An internal investigation cleared Heimsness of misconduct, and the Madison District Attorney refused to file criminal charges, but Heenan’s family believes its case will prevail.
“Police cases are always difficult. Judges and jurors always like to stand with the police if they can because they think the police stand with them in difficult situations, but here we’ve got a fact scenario where the average person is going to say you didn’t have to shoot him,” said Jeff Scott Olson, the Heenan family attorney.
Olson said he was approached by the family to take the case. He has studied the more than 700 pages from the police’s internal investigation into the shooting, as well as independently talked to witnesses.
The suit does not mention a specific amount of money the plaintiffs hope to receive, but Olson said money in this case is not as important as sending a message to Madison’s Police Department and other law enforcement agencies throughout the state that the use of deadly force should be a last resort for officers, not a first resort.
Calls to Wray were forwarded to Madison’s City Attorney, Mike May, who refused to comment until he had seen and reviewed the 64-page lawsuit.