When officer Stephen Mader, 25, responded to a domestic violence incident in early May, he was confronted by an armed man. Following the incident, the Weirton, W.Va. police officer was terminated from the department for not gunning the man down.
Mader used his training as a Marine and experience in Afghanistan where he served a tour to look at “the whole person” in order to decide if a person is a terrorist. He said his police academy training, kicked in, too, and he decided not shoot the man.
“I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” Mader told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mader said the gun Ronald D. “R.J.” Williams Jr., 23, was holding was in his right hand pointed at the ground.
Instead of opening fire, Mader used his “calm voice.”
Mr. Mader, who was standing behind Mr. Williams’ car parked on the street, said he then began to use my calm voice.
“I told him, ‘Put down the gun,’ and he’s like, ‘Just shoot me.’ And I told him, ‘I’m not going to shoot you brother.’ Then he starts flicking his wrist to get me to react to it,” he recalled.
“I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate it,” he continued. “I knew it was a suicide-by-cop situation.”
Two other Weirton officers arrived on the scene and the man walked toward them waving his gun. Williams died from a gunshot to his head. Later, it was determined that Williams’ gun was not loaded.
A West Virginia State Police investigation concluded that the shooting was justified.
When Mader returned to work, he was told to go see Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander.
In a meeting with the chief and City Manager Travis Blosser, Mr. Mader said 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.”
Mr. Mader said that “right then I said to him: ‘Look, I didn’t shoot him because he said, ‘Just shoot me.’ ”
A Weirton officer delivered Mader a notice of termination letter on June 7th. The letter said that by not shooting Williams, he “failed to eliminate a threat.”
“Firing me for it, it’s less of an eyebrow-raiser then to say the other officers are justified in what they did — which I think they were,” he said.
Mr. Mader is white and Mr. Williams was black. But Mr. Mader said the other two officers — who are also white — did the right thing given their situation.
“They did not have the information I did,” he said. “They don’t know anything I heard. All they know is [Mr. 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,” he said.
“It was like [Chief Alexander] was a good guy and the next second he’s throwing me under the bus,” he said.
Jack Dolance, an attorney for the Williams’ family, said that how and why Mr. Mader was fired ‘is pretty clear evidence of their policy and that the way they feel [the shooting of Mr. Williams] should have been handled. Not only do they think he should have been shot and killed, but shot and killed more quickly.’
Mader is presently going to school to get his commercial license to drive trucks.
An attorney told Mader that he could ask to resign from the police department instead of being terminated.
“But I told [the attorney] ‘Look, I don’t want to admit guilt. I’ll take the termination instead of the resignation because I didn’t do anything wrong,’” he said. “To resign and admit I did something wrong here would have ate at me. I think I’m right in what I did. I’ll take it to the grave.”
In Weirton, W.Va, police are supposed to shoot first and ask questions later, apparently.
Featured image via the Poole family.