Madison’s mayor addresses complaints against Heimsness

Soglin says Heimsness situation is the most serious police incident in 40 years

Published On: Jun 25 2013 06:44:11 PM CDT   Updated On: Jun 25 2013 08:31:36 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

Mayor Paul Soglin said the city has to make it clear that certain actions are unacceptable, particularly those similar to messages listed in a complaint from Madison Police Chief Noble Wray.

“Like Chief Wray, I find the charges troubling and distressing,” Soglin read from a prepared statement. “The shooting of a citizen last year resulted in the tragic loss of Paul Heenan's life, anguish and despair to his family and friends, sadness to neighbors, and deep concern for the Madison Police Department.”

Wray filed the complaint to the Police and Fire Commission Friday, asking for Officer Stephen Heimsness to be removed from the force. Heimsness has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting death of Paul Heenan on Madison’s east side. However, most of the counts against Heimsness were connected to inappropriate comments made through the department’s computer system.

“They're troubling and disturbing,” Soglin said about the comments.

When asked how the shooting and Heimsness’ other actions could be considered separately, Soglin said he had a responsibility to the office he holds and said how he felt was a personal matter. Instead, he referenced an e-mail with city attorney Michael May.

"’Generally speaking, and with some exceptions, evidence of a person's character or trait is not admissible to show that the person acted in conformity with that trait in a given instance,’” Soglin said, quoting May’s legal explanation.

Soglin said it would be appropriate for Dane County District Attorney Ishmael Ozanne to look at whether or not this case is an exception to that rule. He said he is confident in the work Wray has put into investigating the situation.

Soglin said there is no evidence indicating improper comments on city computers are a widespread issue. However, he announced plans to expand a program the city’s human resources department is developing, which would cover all city agencies.

Soglin said the details on that program’s expansion would be released and implemented in the next few weeks.

“Unfortunately, when things go wrong in an organization, it's usually culture,” Soglin said. “To not face up and confront that, to be silent, is the worst thing we can do.”

The Madison Police Department is still determining proper discipline for other employees who violated computer messaging policies. A majority of the violations will be dealt with internally, according to a department spokesperson. No additional officers are on leave at this time.

According to the latest police figures, Heimsness has collected $40,117.81 since Feb. 1. That includes $12,390.00 in benefits. That is based on a $2,625.00 biweekly base pay, plus additional money for seniority on the force and working the night shift.

The complaints -- from both Wray and Paul Heenan’s former roommates -- were served by Police and Fire Commission attorney Scott Herrick to Heimsness’ attorney. Heimsness is being represented in the hearings by Wisconsin Professional Police Association attorney Andrew Schauer.

Herrick said the initial hearing will likely take place on July 8.

“The present situation is clearly the most serious our Police Department has dealt with in four decades,” Soglin said.