In America today, we sentence to prison people who chuckle at the Attorney General. We incarcerate more people than any other nation on the planet. And we fire police officers who refuse to shoot mentally ill Black men.
Police officer Stephen Mader was dismissed from the Weirton, W. Va police department after rolling up on a scene of a disturbance on May 6, 2016, at which RJ Williams, 23, produced a pistol when ordered to show his hands.
Police received a call from Williams’s girlfriend, who reported Williams threatened to kill himself with a knife. After discovering police were enroute, Williams retrieved an unloaded handgun from his car, and announced he would lure the officer into shooting him.
Now Mader has filed a lawsuit that alleges:
“[The city] 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.”
According to the suit, officer Mader drew his weapon, at which point RJ Williams screamed:
“Just shoot me!”
Mader reportedly said:
“I don’t wanna shoot you, brother, just put down the gun.”
Mader then recalled:
“About that time two more cruisers arrived. At this point he starts to wave his gun at me and the other officers, and within seconds of the other officers getting out of their cruisers there were four shots fired.”
Investigators later discovered Williams’ gun was unloaded.
Mader’s superiors argued in their termination letter that Mader failed to respond to the threat.
“The unfortunate reality of police work is that making any decision is better than making no decision at all.”
But Mader made a decision–not to shoot Williams. He based this decision on Williams’ body language and evident mental state. Mader determined Williams did not present a threat and that de-escalation was the technique he could use.
About his decision, Mader, an Afghanistan veteran, said:
“He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t aggressive, he didn’t seem in position to want to use a gun against anybody. He never pointed it at me. I didn’t perceive him as an imminent threat.”
However, Mader’s termination letter states:
“No officer was ever trained to deduce the intention of a suspect.”
Of Mader’s termination, Joseph Cohen of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said:
“Essentially they fired [Mader] for respecting RJ Williams’ constitutional rights.”
Mader’s attorney, Tim O’Brien, contends:
“When a police [officer] exercises restraint – and sometimes we don’t see that as much as we like to – that’s something that should be praised rather than punished.”
O’Brien told the Washington Post:
“It’s more ironic that we had many instances where an officer uses deadly force and nothing happens to them. Here, we have an officer who uses restraint and he gets punished. Odd would be an understatement.”
According to police department officials’ reports to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mader’s decision to spare Williams was “not a primary factor in his termination,” citing two other incidents in which Mader was involved.
However, the Williams shooting letter contradicts this statement. It says:
“[Mader] should be dismissed from employment…due to to negligence on his part during the incident that occurred on 6 May 2016, in which a fellow officer had to react and unfortunately take the life of the suspect.”
Since his firing, officials have claimed Mader “froze” during the incident, and have labeled him a “disgruntled employee,” a “bad cop.”
Mader is seeking damages in excess of $75,000.
Featured image from 910AM Superstaion.