Justice

This Cop Says He Was Fired Because He Didn't Shoot a Suicidal Man

May 19th 2017

By:
Danielle DeCourcey

It was around 2:00 am on May 6, 2016, when Stephen Mader got the call that would eventually lead to the end of Ronald J. Williams' life. Speaking to ATTN:, Mader — a police officer in Weirton, West Virginia — said he'd received a dispatch about a woman who called and said she needed help. 

Stephen Mader in his police uniform.

However, the woman's call was disconnected. While a dispatcher tried to get her back on the phone, Mader went to her address and saw a black man standing by a car door in front of the house. The officer told the man that the police had received a call about a "domestic" incident, but the man, who would later be identified as Williams, said nothing was wrong and Mader could leave.

police car

That's when Mader said he noticed Williams was holding his hands behind his back. 

"I went around the trunk of his car," he said. "I asked him to show me his hands and he said 'no.'" Eventually Williams dropped his hands from behind his back. "Finally, he complied and when he brought his hands down he had a silver pistol in his hand," said Mader, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. "I told him to drop the gun, and said he couldn't do that, and was backing away."

Stephen Mader and his family while he served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Mader said that Williams begged to be shot.

"He told me to shoot him," Mader said. "He was pleading with me to shoot him and I said, 'No, I'm not going to shoot.'" 

However, other officers soon arrived and the situation took a turn for the worse. 

"Two more cruisers started coming up the road and when he saw them he started walking toward them waving the gun randomly between me and them," Mader said. "They stepped out of their cruiser and within seconds four shots were fired, and the last one ended up [being fatal]."

Mader said that he was first informally told by people in the department that he didn't react appropriately to Williams. He was eventually let go, but Mader said he has not regrets. 

"No, I still would have done it the same way," he said. 

A policewoman.

Mader and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia are now suing the City of Weirton for firing Mader. The lawsuit, filed on May 10 in a federal court, alleges that the police department let Mader go in order to make the actions of officer who shot Williams in the head, Officer Ryan Kuzma, appear justified. 

"Upon information and belief, the Weirton Police Department terminated Mr. Mader’s employment because his decision not to use deadly force to shoot and kill a suicidal African-American male, made or could have been construed to make Officer Kuzma’s use of deadly force appear unreasonable or excessive under the circumstances," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit says Kuzma called Mader a "coward" in a text message in September 2016, adding that he "didn't have the balls to save [his] own life."

ATTN: reached out to the City of Weirton for comment but did not hear back. 

Jaime Lynn Crofts, legal director of the ACLU of West Virginia, told ATTN: that Mader should never have been fired. 

"From every indication, Mr. Mader was fired for not shooting and killing R.J. Williams. I believe the exact phrase that was used is that he 'failed to eliminate a threat,'" she said. "Obviously, it's not just constitutionally and legally wrong, it's also just morally wrong."

Crofts said she hopes the lawsuit will start a conversation about police reform in the U.S. 

"I think that Mr. Mader is a great example of a good person who was punished for trying to do the right thing," she said. "I think that's something we need more of and I would love it if this led to more of a dialogue and a real change in how we train our police officers."

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