Time and time again we’ve read and reported incidents in which unarmed Black men and women were shot down by police. But this time, a West Virginia officer lost his job for not shooting a man who held an unloaded gun because he reportedly put other officers in danger.
On May 6, Officer Stephen Mader responded to a domestic disturbance call in Weirton, West Virginia. When Mader arrived on the scene, he was confronted by Ronald Williams, a 23-year-old Black man, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Williams’ girlfriend made the call to police.
Mader, who is White, served as a Marine in the military and said he used de-escalation skills learned in training to evaluate the “whole person” before reacting abruptly he said in an interview with the Post-Gazette:
“I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” Mader said, who observed Williams’ handgun was in his right hand hanging downward, pointed at the ground.
According to Mader, he used a calm voice and told Williams to lower his gun. Williams responded with, “Just shoot me.” “I’m not going to shoot you, brother,” Mader said back. Her recalled Williams flicked his wrist to get him to react.
“I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop situation,” Mader told the Post-Gazette.
But all of Mader’s training couldn’t prepare him for what happened next. Shortly after, two more officers arrived on the scene. Williams walked toward the officers, waving his gun, according to the Post-Gazette. One of the officers aimed and fired at Williams, striking him dead with a shot to the back of the head. The two responding officers were also White.
After the shooting, the Weirton Police Department engaged in a series of missteps. An investigator was brought in who promptly took a week-long vacation, and the department also refused to publicly release Williams’ name for three days.
Mader told the Post-Gazette that he took time off after the shooting, When he returned to meet with Police Chief Rob Alexander and City Manager Travis Blosser, they informed him he would be placed on administrative leave until they concluded an internal investigation into whether or not they would fire him. “You put two other officers in danger,” they told him.
“Right then I said to him: “Look, I didn’t shoot him because he said, ‘Just shoot me,’” Mader said to The Post-Gazette.
On June 7, Mader was handed a pink slip dated June 6, which read that he “failed to eliminate a threat.”
Out of frustration, Mader failed to attend a city hearing to approve the termination on June 29. He sought legal advice and was advised that because West Virginia is an “at will” state, his case would be hard to fight in court. Another told him to ask for a resignation instead of termination.
Mader told The Pittsburgh Gazette that his termination was unjustified and hired lawyer Jack Dolance on his behalf. Mader is currently studying for a commercial driving license to support his wife and two sons. He says he would jump at the chance to work in law enforcement again if an offer was on the table.
Williams’ case is still under internal investigation. Mader’s attorney and the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union have taken up a separate investigation.