A former police officer in West Virginia, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Weirton Police Department after he was fired for refusing to shoot a distressed African-American suspect holding a gun, was paid $175,000 in settlement, reports said Monday.
The lawsuit accused the Weirton Police Department of wrongfully terminating Officer Stephen Mader after he chose not to shoot a 23-year-old black man while responding to a domestic disturbance call in 2016. Mader was awarded the money and a pledge that his former employer will not prevent him from obtaining a job in law enforcement elsewhere. Mader maintains his firing was unjustified.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy to put this chapter of my life to bed,” Mader said in a statement Monday. “The events leading to my termination were unjustified and I’m pleased a joint resolution has been met. My hope is that no other person on either end of a police call has to go through this again.”
The incident that led to Mader’s termination occurred May 6, 2016, when he responded to a domestic-disturbance call and found Ronald “R.J.” Williams Jr. of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, with an unloaded handgun at the scene.
Mader said last year the suspect was “visibly choked up” and told the officer to shoot him. As a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, Mader told the news outlet he concluded Williams was not a threat and so he attempted to de-escalate the situation.
Williams, 23, was “pleading for me to shoot him,” Mader had later said in his complaint. “He didn’t appear angry or aggressive.”
Williams seemed intent on committing “suicide by cop,” the former officer said.
Two of his colleagues arrived at the scene as backup as Mader was trying to get Williams to drop his gun. Mader said Williams raised his gun and was instantly shot and killed by one of the other officers present there. The gun Williams possessed was ultimately found out to be empty.
A separate investigation into the incident found the officers who shot Wiliams were justified in their actions. Mader’s personnel file, obtained earlier by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request, included an investigative report by a Weirton police department captain, who reportedly wrote Williams presented “a clear and present danger” to others and also recommended the former officer’s firing for numerous incidents.
Weirton City Manager Travis Blosser told CNN in September 2016 that Mader was fired not just for the Williams shooting but for “a totality of circumstances.”
Other incidents included a March 2016 incident where the former officer allegedly entered a man’s car without a warrant to put a parking ticket on the dashboard. Another incident happened in April 2016, when Mader and other officers failed to report an elderly woman’s death as suspicious. The woman’s death had later been ruled a homicide.
Mader justified his actions in these two incidents, saying that in the March 2016 incident he was writing a second ticket for a vehicle when the owner reportedly came out and started cursing him. And in the April 2016 incident, Mader claimed emergency responders told officers the elderly woman died of natural causes.
On June 7, 2016, the Weirton Police Department fired Mader. The lawsuit, filed against the department in May 2017, claimed they fired him because of “failure to meet probationary standards of an officer” and “apparent difficulties in critical incident reasoning.”
Timothy O’Brien, lead counsel in the lawsuit, Mader’s attorney said he was pleased the former officer’s case has been resolved.
“No police officer should ever lose their job — or have their name dragged through the mud — for choosing to talk to, rather than shoot, a fellow citizen,” he said. “His decision to attempt to de-escalate the situation should have been praised, not punished. Simply put, no police officer should ever feel forced to take a life unnecessarily to save his career.”