We live in dark times, and we know this because police officers who do the right thing are often punished while others who kill victims while on duty are frequently dismissed.
The story of Stephen Mader, a cop who was fired for doing the right thing, is one we should all be talking about — the more, the better. Perhaps then, if people are pointing the finger to the absurdities of this system, real, significant changes will take place.
Our client Stephen Mader was fired for not killing someone he concluded was no threat. Today we filed suit: https://t.co/CpENBecR8c— ACLU of WV (@ACLU_WV) May 10, 2017
Mader responded to a disturbance call on May 6, 2016, involving Ronald J. Williams, a black man who had been threatening to hurt himself. He was armed with a knife, but later went into his car to get a gun that wasn't loaded.
When the officer, a Marine Corp. veteran who served two tours — one in Afghanistan — arrived at the scene, he noticed Williams was upset. As Mader attempted to make a connection with Williams, he said he realized the distressed man had one hand behind his back.
After pressing Williams to show him what he was hiding, he finally saw the empty silver handgun. Knowing Williams wasn't acting aggressively, just troubled, Mader determined that he wasn't a real threat to anyone but himself. However, as he worked to de-escalate the situation, Williams told Mader to “just shoot” him. That's when he knew the man just wanted to commit suicide by cop.
“He wasn't screaming, yelling, he wasn't angry. He just seemed distraught. Whenever he told me to shoot him it was as if he was pleading with me," Mader explained. "At first, I'm thinking, 'Do I really need to shoot this guy?' But after hearing 'just shoot me' and his demeanor, it was, 'I definitely can't.'"
As Mader tried to get Williams to cooperate and put the gun down, a police cruiser drove up the road, and the connection between Mader and Williams was gone. As officers walked out of the cruiser, Williams started waving his gun. Within seconds, officers had shot him in the head.
After this incident, the Weirton Police Department let Mader go for not shooting Williams. On Wednesday, Mader filed a lawsuit naming the city of Weirton as the defendant.
Claiming he was wrongfully terminated, Mader's suit adds that his constitutional rights were violated and that after he lost his job, the city continued to engage “in a pattern of retaliation designed to destroy” his reputation.
According to attorney Timothy P. O'Brien, “The City of Weirton's decision to fire officer Mader because he chose not to shoot and kill a fellow citizen, when he believed that he should not use such force, not only violates the Constitution, common sense, and public policy, but incredibly punishes restraint.”
“When given the tragic, and, far too frequent unnecessary use of deadly force,” O'Brien continued, “such restraint should be praised, not penalized. To tell a police officer, when in doubt either shoot to kill, or get fired, is a choice that no police officer should ever have to make and is a message that is wrong and should never be sent.”
After Mader's story became national news, many officers approached him, he said, sending him his well wishes.
“When they read the story they are just shocked,” he told reporters.
In many instances seen in this country, O'Brien said, “police have used deadly force in circumstances where that force is questioned, but nothing is ever done.”
“When you contrast with what Officer Mader did and how he's been treated, and officers who've used deadly force and how they've been treated, it speaks volumes to why we have a problem with deadly force in this country,” he concluded.
Mader, who has a wife and two small children, said he hopes he may be able to work for the police again. Still, he doesn't regret his actions.
“I wouldn't change anything. Even after them saying that I failed to eliminate a threat and that it should have been handled differently, I still believe I did the right thing," Mader said. "And a lot of people think I did the right thing, too. I know it's not just me."
Hopefully, this suit will bring attention to the police brutality problem in this country, helping to highlight the fact that bad behavior is often ignored — not punished. Maybe then, we will be able to put reforms in place that will effectively address this issue so that seeing cops like Mader in the force are the norm, not the exception.