On May 6, 2016, Stephen Mader was the first police officer to respond to a 911 call about a man who was threatening to kill himself.
When Mader arrived at the home of Ronald J. Williams, he found the distressed man outside with his hands behind his back. Williams’ girlfriend had called for help because he was threatening to hurt himself with a knife.
After several orders from Mader, Williams showed his hands, and he was holding a gun.
He said to Mader repeatedly, “Just shoot me.”
Mader kept replying calmly, “I’m not going to shoot you. Just put the gun down.”
Williams appeared to be choked up. Mader – who served as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan – did not feel Williams was dangerous to anyone but himself. It appeared the emotionally distressed man was attempting to commit “suicide by cop.”
In a statement, Mader said:
“When I arrived at the scene, Mr. Williams was pleading for me to shoot him. He didn’t appear angry or aggressive. He seemed depressed. As a marine vet that served in Afghanistan and as an active member of the National Guard, all my training told me he was not a threat to others or me. Because of that I attempted to deescalate the situation. I was just doing my job.”
He evaluated the situation, Mader said, and tried to Williams to put the gun down.
“He wasn’t screaming, yelling, he wasn’t angry. He just seemed distraught. Whenever he told me to shoot him it was as if he was pleading with me. At first, I’m thinking, ‘Do I really need to shoot this guy?’ But after hearing ‘just shoot me’ and his demeanor, it was, ‘I definitely can’t.'”
Despite Mader’s attempts to deescalate the situation, Williams, 21, ended up dead.
But it wasn’t Mader who shot him.
Nor did the despondent man take his own life.
While Mader was trying to talk Williams into putting his gun down, another police cruiser arrived.
Two officers stepped out of that police car, and within seconds, one shot Williams in the head, killing him.
And, as it turns out, the gun Williams was holding was not loaded.
A little over a week later, Mader heard that the Weirton Police Department would be conducting an investigation into the shooting.
Mader was placed on administrative leave, and on June 7, he was fired for allegedly putting other officers at risk.
Mader said he never once was interviewed or questioned about how he handled things.
In an interview with Newsweek, Mader explained that he “didn’t think deadly force was necessary” because Williams wasn’t going to harm anyone but himself:
“Any time there’s an imminent threat, it’s nerve-racking. There’s the adrenaline. Everything just seems very, very fast. A thousand things are running through your head.”
Today, Mader filed a lawsuit against the City of Weirton, West Virginia for wrongful termination, due process violations, and reputation damage.
From the Complaint:
Rather than respect Mr. Mader’s informed judgment and experience and his reasonable attempt to de-escalate the situation, the City of Weirton, in a flawed effort to buttress the other officer’s use of deadly force, wrongfully terminated Mr. Mader’s employment. When that termination came to light in the local press, the City then engaged in a pattern of retaliation designed to destroy Mr. Mader’s reputation.
Mader is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien, Esq. Their press release states:
“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—when given the tragic, and, far too frequent unnecessary use of deadly force,” says lead counsel, Timothy P. O’Brien. “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 the City of Weirton fired Mader, he spoke to a newspaper about the death of Williams and his termination. In response, the City and its agents engaged in a campaign to harass Mader and tarnish his reputation by holding a press conference making false allegations against Mader, sending profanity-laced text messages and spreading misinformation about him at his job training program.
ACLU of West Virginia Executive Director Joseph Cohen told Newsweek,
“The idea that he would be fired for failing to kill somebody that he deemed no threat—that violates everything the ACLU stands for, and I think it violates what we as a society would want from our police. What type of message does that send to other police officers, both in Weirton and across the country, that Stephen Mader was fired? What kind of message does that send to communities like Ferguson that are reeling from police shootings?”
Mader’s case is important because he was punished for complying with the requirements of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable use of force, O’Brien told Newsweek.
Plus, firing a cop for showing restraint, he added, pushes officers towards more shootings.
“It says to a police officer, If you can use force, you must use it. It says that when you’re in doubt, you must shoot to kill or you’ll be fired.”
O’Brien told NBC:
“There’s the thin blue line, and one of the ironies of this case is that as we’ve seen across the county how many instances police have used deadly force in circumstances where that force is questioned, but nothing is ever done. In most cases you don’t see training or suspension. When you contrast with what Officer Mader did and how he’s been treated, and officers who’ve used deadly force and how they’ve been treated, it speaks volumes to why we have a problem with deadly force in this country.”
Newsweek spoke with Dr. Jonathan Wender, the co-founder of police training and consulting company Polis Solutions and a former police officer. Wender said Mader’s experience in a war zone likely gave him the background to remain calm even when confronted with an armed person:
“A well-trained combat veteran is not going to be as amped up as your average cop. Someone who is more comfortable in a given situation will be more cognitive and have more tools at his disposal. Here you’ve got an officer who wasn’t scared and tried to take a more measured approach.”
When asked if there was anything he would have done differently, Mader told NBC:
“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. And a lot of people think I did the right thing, too. I know it’s not just me.”
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Contributed by Lily Dane of The Daily Sheeple.
Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”