WEIRTON, W.Va. – A former West Virginia officer who chose not to shoot a suicidal man was later fired for failing to act when additional responding officers determined lethal force was justified. He is now suing the city, according to NBC News.
LET originally reported the incident, which occurred on May 6, 2016. Police Officer Stephen Mader responded to a report of a domestic incident. Upon his arrival he found himself confronting an armed man.
Officer Mader assessed the situation and determined lethal force was unnecessary at the given moment he conversed with the distraught individual. He believed the subject was not a threat to anyone but himself.
Mader saw that Ronald D. Williams, Jr., 23, had a gun in his hand, but he said it was not pointed at him. He noted that the gun was in the man’s right hand, hanging at his side and pointed at the ground.
According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Mader said, “I told him, ‘Put down the gun,’ and he’s like, ‘Just shoot me.’ And I told him, ‘I’m not going to shoot you brother.’ I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop.”
But as two other officers of Weirton Police Department arrived on the scene, Williams walked toward them waving his gun, and the situation quickly escalated. As a result of his actions, he was shot and killed. However, Mader did not fire.
When the OIS was concluded, and the shooting was ruled justified, Mader was fired from the Weirton Police Department in June 2016.
LET published The Human Element as an editorial to this incident. In the article our editor-in-chief, Jim McNeff, wrote:
The scenario is impossible to conclusively argue one way or the other without personally experiencing it, or participating in the investigation. But I know cops, so I know it’s fodder for roll call training across the country. Some believe the termination was justified. Others are spewing expletives claiming the administration threw Mader under the bus.
Since Mader was terminated, the scenario has replayed many times over in his head.
“I loved being a police officer. And for them to say because of this incident you’re not going to continue here was heartbreaking,” said Mader “It had me questioning myself, should I be an officer.”
On Wednesday, Mader filed a lawsuit against the city of Weirton claiming that he was wrongfully terminated, that his constitutional rights were violated and that the city thereafter “engaged in a pattern of retaliation designed to destroy Mr. Mader’s reputation.”
The suit was filed on Mader’s behalf by the ACLU of West Virginia and attorney Timothy P. O’Brien.
“The City of Weirton’s decision to fire Officer Mader because he chose not to shoot and kill a fellow citizen, when he believed that he should not use such force, not only violates the Constitution, common sense and public policy, but incredibly punishes restraint,” O’Brien said. “When given the tragic, and, far too frequent unnecessary use of deadly force, such restraint should be praised not penalized. To tell a police officer, when in doubt either shoot to kill, or get fired, is a choice that no police officer should ever have to make and is a message that is wrong and should never be sent.”
After being fired, Mader gave interviews with local media and alleges the city almost immediately sought to punish him through a campaign of press conferences, misinformation and untrue allegations including falsehoods about his performance during his 10 months on the job when the incident took place.
The city did not comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, saying they had not yet read it.
Even as his lawsuit is filed, the former West Virginia officer and Marine said he hopes to one-day work in law enforcement again. However, he worries the case has made him untouchable.
Mader, who has been working with the West Virginia National Guard, has a wife and two little boys, ages 2 and 4. And he hopes that one day they understand why daddy didn’t shoot.
When asked if there’s anything he’d do differently, his answer was simple.
“I wouldn’t change anything. Even after them saying that I failed to eliminate a threat and that it should have been handled differently, I still believe I did the right thing,” Mader said. “And a lot of people think I did the right thing, too. I know it’s not just me.”
(Photo courtesy Bryan Haire)