Isthmus defends its Heimsness cop story

We’re getting deep into the weeds here, folks

We report, you decide.

An Isthmus article written by Dylan Brogan alleged former Madison police officer Stephen Heimsness was the ringleader in harassing fellow police officer Sarah Anderson, forcing her to quit the force. That article, to this reader and others, implied that had Heimsness been disciplined immediately, he would never have had the opportunity to shoot and kill a very drunk and belligerent man named Paulie Heenan. Brogan’s article also implied that MPD was responsible for denying former duty disability payments as part of a bad old boy network.

Assistant City Attorney Patricia Lauten responded to that article in a message to the Common Council and Mayor. The Stately Manor reprinted that response here.

Now, Isthmus editor Judy Davidoff has issued the following defense of that original article, which we reprint here in the spirit of fairness:

City attorney wrote: [Asst.  City Attorney] Lauten wrote that “The Madison Police Department does not determine whether a police officer receives duty disability. To say that MPD is responsible for Ms. Anderson not receiving duty disability is legally and factually false.”

Isthmus Response: Lauten appears to be addressing a concern raised by an alder. The article does not say that “MPD is responsible for Ms. Anderson not receiving duty disability.”

City attorney wrote: that “In Ms. Anderson’s case, the reason she can no longer be a police officer has nothing to do with the incident with the rifle. MPD and I provided the discipline information to Dylan Brogan well before he ran his article. It is unfortunate he chose to leave these facts out of his article and instead wrote, ‘Anderson says she felt like she was the only officer being scrutinized. Records show she was right.’ The records in his possession actually show the opposite.”

Isthmus Response: The article never states or suggests that the rifle incident was the only reason for Anderson’s departure. In fact, we devoted a large section to an Oct. 29, 2012 email sent by Lt. Kristen Roman, which lists several alleged workplace performance issues related to Officer Anderson. That memo, however, does list the rifle incident among the reasons for concern about Anderson’s performance. This was weeks before any officer was interviewed about the incident and several months before any officer was disciplined. If there are records that show other officers were questioned before Anderson went on leave at the end of October 2012, the department failed to produce them and would contradict records that were provided.

Further, UW Police Chief Roman e-mailed Brogan on Feb. 27, 2018 to say that the investigation had been delayed until December 2012: “Normally, we would have begun interviewing individuals at the end of October or early November starting first with the primary complainant but several individuals were not available for interviews for various reasons, including Sarah Anderson,” she wrote. “Therefore, we did wait until December when I conducted Jon Drollinger’s interview. Steve Heimsness and Sarah Anderson were interviewed after Jon Drollinger and you have those dates.”

Finally, the records from your department indicate that Anderson was told she might face discipline for leaving her rifle in a squad car, as would other officers.

An Oct. 9, 2012 email sent by Sgt. Kelly Donahue to Roman states, “I also told [Anderson] that it was likely that everyone would be spoken to and it was possible that some discipline or documented counseling would be in order. PO Anderson replied that she deserved whatever she got if she left her weapon unsecured in the car.”

Additionally, the line from the story pulled out by Lauten (“Anderson says she felt like she was the only officer being scrutinized”) clearly referred to that point in time and does not suggest other officers were never scrutinized or disciplined. It reflects what the records provided to Isthmus indicated — none of those officers were investigated before Nov. 9, 2012.

Heimsness was the focus

City attorney wrote: “We also told Mr. Brogan that Officer Jon Drollinger, the other officer investigated along with Steve Heimsness, received a 22-day suspension for his role in the incident. In addition, another officer, who was not directly involved in the incident, but who engaged in MDC messaging with Heimsness and did not take appropriate action when he learned of the incident, was suspended for 10 days. Again, this is information Mr. Brogan had before he wrote his article but chose to ignore in his article, thus making it appear as if MPD took no action on Ms. Anderson’s complaint.

Isthmus Response: Our piece focused on the internal investigation against Officer Stephen Heimsness, not the other officers connected to the incident involving Officer Sarah Anderson’s rifle. We disagree that the absence of details about Officer Jon Drollinger’s suspension demonstrates a failure “to properly vet and share material facts.” It is also important to note that Assistant City Attorney Patricia Lauten initially denied access to these records when requested.

Here is a record of that exchange: On Feb. 16, 2018, Brogan emailed several questions to Public Information Officer Joel Despain including this: “Were any MPD officers disciplined or sanctioned from internal investigations 2012-PSIA-0044, 2012-PSIA-0058, 2012-PSIA-0060?”

Lauten replied the same day, writing: “I’m responding to your questions. This matter is currently on appeal so the City will have no comment at this time. Thank you.”

After following up by email and calling Lauten to ask why Anderson’s appeal would prevent the release of other officers’ discipline records, Lauten provided Drollinger’s and Anderson’s discipline records on Feb. 26. No records were sent to Brogan related to the officer Lauten says received a 10-day suspension.

A final note on this issue: It appears that Lauten erred in her memo to you and the alders about the length of Drollinger’s suspension. The documents she provided Isthmus show that, for his participation in harassing Anderson, Drollinger was suspended for 13 days with four of those days in abeyance — not 22 days. Drollinger received a concurrent nine-day suspension for harassing three other MPD employees in separate incidents. In her Feb. 26 email, Lauten herself seemed to make this very point about the disciplinary records on Drollinger, noting that “not all of these relate to the incident with the rifle.”

City attorney wrote: Lauten wrote that Anderson “was interviewed as part of the PSIA investigation into the other two officers. She was never investigated or disciplined over this event. In fact, we told Mr. Brogan Ms. Anderson never received any discipline in her time with MPD — a fact he chose to ignore.”

Isthmus Response: Not only did we not ignore this fact, we stated it outright: “Anderson was never disciplined during her four-year tenure with the department.”

City attorney wrote: that Brogan cherry-picked information received from the department, “thus making it appear as if MPD took no action on Ms. Anderson’s complaint.”

Isthmus Response: Again, this is not true. The article states that MPD sought to fire Heimsness, in part, because of his harassment of Anderson: “In June 2013, Chief Noble Wray filed a lengthy complaint with the Madison Police and Fire Commission seeking to fire Heimsness; among a number of misconduct charges the complaint alleges Heimsness harassed Anderson and lied about it.” The article made clear that the department eventually took action as a result of the complaint.

City attorney wrote: “If you feel the investigation into Steve Heimsness should have been more timely, the reason for the delay is due in large part to two events. First, the officer who removed Ms. Anderson’s rifle from the squad car (where she left it) was Jon Drollinger — not Steve Heimsness.”

Isthmus Response: The article never states that Heimsness was the officer who removed Anderson’s rifle. It states, “The next shift officer who used the same squad car as Anderson found the rifle. He showed it to Officer Stephen Heimsness, complaining that Anderson had left personal items in the squad before. Another cop agreed to bring the rifle upstairs, where it was secured in its proper place on a rack inside the station’s armory.”

City attorney wrote: “Drollinger came to his sergeant shortly after the incident and told her he was the one who dismantled Ms. Anderson’s rifle and left it in the armory. Therefore, MPD understandably looked to Jon Drollinger and Ms. Anderson to provide information regarding the incident because it initially appeared they were the two individuals directly involved. In the course of investigating the incident, it became clear Steve Heimsness was also involved but he was not originally the focus of the investigation. MPD gave Mr. Brogan documents showing this but, again, he chose not to fully disclose the facts in his article.”

Isthmus Response: As the records show and our story reported, Roman concluded in the days that followed the incident that Heimsness was involved in the prank.

As the article states: “On Oct. 8. 2012, Roman wrote in an email, ‘Heimsness it was. Good that he feels he should take things into his own hands like this.’”

Records also show the investigation was suspended on either Oct. 26 or Oct. 29. No officers were interviewed by MPD investigators until Dec. 10, 2012. Most of the officers involved — including Anderson and Heimsness — weren’t interviewed until 2013.

City attorney wrote: that “The focus of Mr. Brogan’s article seems to be, ‘if MPD would have started the investigation sooner, then Steven Heimsness would not have been working on the night Paul Heenan was shot’ – that is nothing but wishful thinking. Mr. Brogan makes that seem like a possibility in his article only because he intentionally ignores evidence in his possession that contradicts his ‘story’. That supposition, is not now, and was not then, ever a factual possibility.”

Isthmus Response: Brogan would be risking his job and reputation if he “intentionally” ignored evidence that purportedly contradicted his “story.” We see nothing in Lauten’s analysis that refutes the story or identifies an error, let alone proves our reporter deliberately obfuscated the truth in order to mislead the public.

Got it?

About David Blaska

Madison WI
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2 Responses to Isthmus defends its Heimsness cop story

  1. jeffsimpson7 says:

    Brogan would be risking his job and reputation if he “intentionally” ignored evidence that purportedly contradicted his “story.” — like daily on this blog!


    • David Blaska says:

      Would Jeff Simpson be risking his job or reputation (such as it is) if he ignored evidence that would contradict this blog? If he has such evidence, why does he not provide it?


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