Madison neighbors start healing process as shooting investigation continues

50 attend "healing circle" on near east side
Madison neighbors start healing process as shooting investigation continues

Neighbors and family members sought comfort Sunday after the Nov. 9 officer-involved shooting death of a Madison musician, as police continued to investigate the incident.

About 50 people, including Paul Heenan’s family, attended an event called a “healing circle” at Trinity Lutheran Church on Madison’s near east side.

“We all go through grief and we do that by people coming around and helping one another,” said David Couper, a priest who was Madison’s police chief from 1972 to 1993. Couper has since written a book and has been critical of police officers using force too quickly.

Heenan died after Madison Police Officer Steven Heimsness shot him three times in the 500 block of South Baldwin Street. Police said Heenan charged Heimsness and reached for the officer’s gun.

Heenan’s family, which has not spoken publicly since the shooting, left the healing circle before it ended Sunday, and many were crying.

A family spokeswoman said she did not want to speak on camera and told members of the media to stay away.

Someone during the event said police officers often don’t recover from shootings they’re involved in. That comment particularly upset the family, according to two people who were inside the event but declined to speak on-camera.

“It’s a time of grieving that I would say won’t easily be ended,” Couper said. “This is no way of completion, this is the opening of the door.”

Several neighbors questioned whether they could trust the police, and one painted a frustrated message on a car: “I’m lost and unarmed, is MPD (the Madison Police Department) going to shoot me?”

Police Chief Noble Wray attended the healing circle and said his internal investigation is still ongoing. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is still getting new information about the incident, Wray said.

“I’m going to hold my judgment back on second guessing or describing what took place until I have all of the information,” he said. “Madisonians will draw their own conclusions based on what’s before them.”

Wray has said Officer Heimsness was responding to a 911 call about a possible burglary on South Baldwin Street when he arrived to find Heenan struggling with the homeowner outside.

Wray said Heenan advanced toward the officer, grabbed his hand with one and reached toward the officer’s gun with the other.

Wray said that Heenan wasn’t armed at the time but that Heimsness believed his life was in danger during the struggle and fired three rounds, killing Heenan.

Wray said the incident began when the homeowners called 911 to report a burglary at their home. Wray said officers were told that the caller was a woman, that she was with four children, and that her husband had gone downstairs to investigate.

That’s when the male homeowner recognized the suspected burglar, Heenan, as his neighbor and realized he wasn’t trying to burglarize the home.

Heenan’s family has hired attorney Jeff Scott Olson to advise them about possible legal action in the case.