Stephen Mader, 27, was let go from his position as a police officer for refusing to shoot a male suspect wielding an unloaded firearm during a domestic dispute and filed a lawsuit after losing his position against the West Virginia city in which he worked. Mader and the city have reached a settlement in the case.
Mader allegedly arrived at a residence in Weirton, West Virginia, on May 6, 2016, and discovered Ronald Williams distraught and wanting to commit “suicide by cop,” according to the officer’s complaint.
Mader ordered the suspect to show him his hands. When he complied, Mader saw he held a silver handgun. The officer drew his own weapon and ordered Williams to drop the gun. “I can’t do that,” Williams said. “Just shoot me.”
However, Mader, who served as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan, didn’t believe Williams was a real threat and he, instead, tried to calm the man down.
“Any time there’s an imminent threat, it’s nerve-racking,” Mader explained later. “There’s the adrenaline. Everything just seems very, very fast. A thousand things are running through your head.” However, “When he said, ‘Just shoot me,’ it was as if he was pleading with me to shoot him,” he added. “He wasn’t out here to harm anybody but himself. I was trying to de-escalate the situation. and that’s why I didn’t think deadly force was necessary.”
Two other police officers arrived at the scene while Mader was attempting to negotiate with the man and one shot and killed Williams, whose gun turned out not to be loaded.
Mader was let go from his position at the department soon after the incident, a decision he said was “a flawed effort to buttress the other officer’s use of deadly force,” according to his wrongful termination lawsuit filed last year in the state’s federal court.
“The Weirton Police Department terminated Mr. Mader’s employment because he chose not to use deadly force to shoot and kill an African American man, who was suicidal, and whom Mr. Mader reasonably believed did not pose a risk of death or serious bodily injury,” Mader’s attorneys wrote in the filing.
Weirton public officials defended his termination at the time. They claimed Mader had made matters worse that evening by cursing at Williams, and also indicated the former officer had contaminated a crime scene and wrongly searched a vehicle in two unrelated situations prior to the event.
Mader agreed to drop the lawsuit against Weirton, where he was born and raised, after reaching the settlement with the city this month, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV), which aided in the filing. Weirton agreed to pay their client $175,000 to compensate for the fact he was let go.
“At the end of the day, I‘m happy to put this chapter of my life to bed,” Mader said in a statement following the decision.
The ACLU-WV’s executive director, Joseph Cohen, called Mader’s firing “yet another incident exposing the toxic culture that infects far too many police departments in America.”
Since his release, Mader has found work as a truck driver.