Over the last few years, there have been far too many stories of police officers fatally shooting young black men and boys. And it is for this reason that tensions between the police and those from ethnic minority backgrounds are far higher than they should be in this modern age. However, this particular story is about a white, former police officer’s decision not to shoot a black suspect, despite the fact that he was armed with a gun.
Twenty-seven-year-old Stephen Mader was fired for refusing to shoot a 23-year-old armed black man back in 2016, and has now been given a $175,000 settlement for wrongful termination.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy to put this chapter of my life to bed,” Mader said in a statement.
The incident happened on May 6, 2016, in Weirton, West Virginia. Mader responded to a domestic violence call from the Weirton Police Department and arrived to find Ronald “RJ” Williams Jr. with a gun.
Williams is now believed to have been suicidal, and Mader did not believe he posed a threat to him or any other officer. Instead, of shooting the man, Mader wanted to calm him down by reasoning with him.
“He wasn’t angry,” Mader told the Guardian. “He wasn’t aggressive, he didn’t seem in a position to want to use a gun against anybody. He never pointed it at me. I didn’t perceive him as an imminent threat.”
Mader explained to CNN that Williams was “visibly choked up” and told Mader he wanted to be shot.
Mader is a Marine veteran who had served in Afghanistan, and he wanted to use the training he received in the armed forces to pacify the young man.
While Mader attempted to get Williams to put down the gun, two other police officers arrived, and when Williams then raised his gun, he was immediately shot and killed by one of the two officers. Williams’ gun was later discovered to be unloaded.
An investigation into the incident found the fatal shooting was justified, and 10 days after, on June 7, 2016, Mader was fired by the Weirton Police Department. Part of the termination letter read:
“The unfortunate reality of police work is that making any decision is better than making no decision at all.”
Nearly a year later in May 2017, Mader filed the lawsuit which claimed he was fired due to “failure to meet probationary standards of an officer” and “apparent difficulties in critical incident reasoning.”
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the Weirton Police Department argued that Mader was actually fired for two incidents prior to the incident in question.
However, this did not match up with the termination letter which specifically condemned Mader for not shooting Williams.
“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,” Timothy O’Brien, Mader’s attorney 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.”
Joseph Cohen, the ACLU-WV executive director described the situation as “yet another incident exposing the toxic culture that infects far too many police departments in America.”
“We need to give law enforcement officers tools to effectively serve their communities. That means we need to invest in de-escalation training, implicit bias training, and crisis intervention training. Hopefully, the resolution of this lawsuit will send a message to the City of Weirton and police departments across the country that our communities deserve thoughtful, compassionate, transparent law enforcement.”
Meanwhile, Mader finalized his thoughts on the incident by saying: “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.”
It is clear that Stephen Mader was simply doing all he could to prevent the incident from escalating into a tragedy. And isn’t that what police officers are supposed to do? To protect the general public from harm as far as possible. Hopefully, Mader will be able to find a new job in a different law enforcement department because we definitely need more selfless and compassionate officers like him.