A bill motivated in part by the Madison officer-involved shooting death of Paul Heenan got a much-awaited public hearing at the Capitol Thursday.
Heenan was shot more than one year ago on South Baldwin Street by Officer Stephen Heimsness.
The bill has been pushed from one committee to another and finally went before the Assembly’s Criminal Justice Committee Thursday.
The bill, cosponsored by reps. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, and Chris Taylor, D-Madison, would end the practice of allowing law enforcement to perform internal investigations when people die in police custody. It would create a State Justice Department Board to probe police shootings and make recommendations on charges. The bill would also require outside agencies to be involved in the investigation.
The Heenan death was one of several police incidents that opened the discussion.
Those opposed to the bill said it’s an unnecessary expansion of government. Supporters were also there, including Paul Heenan’s father, John Heenan.
“We feel there was not a good investigation done. We feel things were covered up,” Heenan said. “We feel AB409 would bring transparency and hopefully, trust back to us and to many members of the community who are left reeling after my son’s death.”
The public hearing panel chair said the bill might not get through, because it suggests lawmakers do not trust police.
“A sheriff is forced to do A, B or C as a result of an investigation that’s being run now by the state instead of his or her agency. I have concerns that may be contrary to Wisconsin’s constitution,” said Samuel C. Hall Jr., the attorney opposed to the bill. “The system we use in Wisconsin right now is used in all the other states, and it works. There are multiple layers. Is it always going to provide the outcome that a family may be look for? No.”
If the bill were to make its way through the legislative process, Wisconsin would be the first state in the Union to require a comprehensive outside review whenever someone is killed in a confrontation with police.
Another issue in question is over who would appoint and who would serve on the proposed statewide committee that would review findings of those independent investigations.