Weirton, WV – A former officer who failed to shoot an armed man pointing a gun at police settled his lawsuit against the Weirton Police Department (WPD) for $175,000.
On May 6, 2016, then-Officer Stephen Mader responded to a call from a woman who said her boyfriend was threatening to kill himself with a knife, The Washington Post reported.
When the man, 23-year-old Ronald Williams, found out his girlfriend had called police, he went and got his handgun out of his vehicle, and told her that he would get the police to shoot him.
His girlfriend called 911 back and told them Williams had a gun, but that it wasn’t loaded. The dispatcher did not relay that information to Officer Mader, or the two officers who arrived on the scene after him.
Officer Mader, a 25-year-old first-year officer, arrived and determined Williams wasn’t aggressive or violent, the complaint said.
Two more officers later arrived on scene.
Williams begged Officer Mader to shoot him, became agitated, and waved his gun in the air and pointing it at all three officers, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
Believing their lives were in danger, one of the officers fatally shot him.
Officer Ryan Kuzma, who shot Williams, testified that he’d had mere seconds to evaluate the situation, and defended his decision to shoot when Officer Mader did nothing, according to The Washington Post.
“If he felt so strongly that Mr. Williams was attempting suicide by cop, he could have tackled him,” Officer Kuzma said, according to court documents. “He could have stood in between. He could have moved.”
“I was faced with a situation where a guy has a gun, and he is waving it back and forth pointing it at me, that I had to react. And there was no reaction out of Mr. Mader,” he testified.
Officer Mader told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he thought his fellow officers had done the right thing given the situation.
“They did not have the information I did,” he said. “They don’t know anything I heard. All they know is [Williams] is waving a gun at them. It’s a shame it happened the way it did, but, I don’t think they did anything wrong.”
After the incident, Officer Kuzma allegedly sent text messages to Officer Mader that called him a coward who would not shoot “to save his own life,” the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
Officer Mader told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that when he returned to work following the mandatory time off for an officer-involved shooting, he was told to go see the police chief.
Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander and City Manager Travis Blosser met with the officer, and told him that he was being investigated for his behavior at the Williams’ incident.
Officer Mader told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Chief Alexander told him: “We’re putting you on administrative leave and we’re going to do an investigation to see if you are going to be an officer here. You put two other officers in danger.”
A month after that incident, WPD fired Officer Mader for “failing to meet probationary standards of an officer” and “apparent difficulties in critical incident reasoning.”
He said he received a notice of termination letter on June 7 that said by not shooting Williams, he “failed to eliminate a threat,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The department said that the officer’s failure to react in that situation was only one of several reasons he was being terminated, The Washington Post reported.
The notice of termination also outlined two other incidents that contributed to his firing, including an April of 2016 when Officer Mader, and other officers who responded to the same call, failed to report the suspicious death of an elderly woman, which later turned out to be a homicide.
Officer Mader claimed he was not at fault in any of the situations noted, and told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he’d never had an opportunity to defend himself.
However, Officer Mader didn’t bother to attend the June 29, 2016 termination hearing held by the city, where he would have had an opportunity to defend himself and address any concerns.
Instead, he took his concerns to the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, and filed a lawsuit accusing the city of firing him for not shooting a black man.
Joseph Cohen, ACLU-WV executive director, called Officer Mader’s termination “yet another incident exposing the toxic culture that infects far too many police departments in America,” CNN reported.
The mainstream media immediately took the position that Officer Mader was an excellent example of de-escalation and a model officer, before any of the facts were released.
Anti-police columnist Shaun King opined that “Stephen Mader was a find, a gem, a blessing for that little department,” in the New York Daily News.
In an egregious case of arm-chair police work, almost every news agency heralded the rookie officer’s decision not to shoot the armed man pointing a weapon at three police officers.
Frustrated with the media’s coverage of the officer’s termination, on Sept. 16, 2016, the Weirton Police put out a press release outlining what exactly Officer Mader had done during the incident, and throughout his short police career, to get himself fired.
“It was concluded that the former officer was not de-escalating the situation but rather escalating it through his use of profanity before any weapon was drawn,” the press release said.
“The investigation further revealed that the officer froze on the scene, not communicating with the other officers involved,” it said.
The police chief said that information came directly from Officer Mader’s testimony during the investigation of the May incident, The Weirton Daily Times reported.
“He raised his voice and used profanities toward Mr. Williams,” Chief Alexander said. “His own statements contradict his story.”
The press release said Officer Mader was terminated for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”
“We will not allow the community to be put at risk from any employee who shows careless disregard to their duties with the community,” the department said.
Mader, who honorably served in the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, is currently working on getting his commercial driver’s license, and told the Post-Gazette that he was still open to working in law enforcement.