A West Virginia police officer and Marine veteran was fired for attempting to talk down an armed suspect instead of shooting him.
Former Weirton Police officer Stephen Mader was forced to make hard decisions on May 6th when he responded to a domestic incident involving 23-year-old Ronald “RJ” Williams, Jr, who was armed with a pistol.
“I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” Mader recalled, noting the pistol was pointed at the ground.
Mader used his combined experience in the Marines and his training as an officer to determine whether or not the Williams was headstrong on getting into a gunfight.
Using what he called his “calm voice,” Mader began to try and bring the man down without bloodshed.
“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. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop” situation.”
At that moment, two other WPD officers came onto the scene, with one of them shooting Williams in the back of the head.
Following a month long investigation by the West Virginia state police, the officer involved was cleared of guilt the incident, in what has been deemed a justified action. William’s firearm was also later discovered to be unloaded.
Following his leave, Mader came back eleven days later to find that his job was in jeopardy.
In a meeting with WPD Chief Rob Alexander and City Manager Travis Blosser, he was given the bad news.
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,” the Chief said. “You put two other officers in danger.”
Mader said that “right then I said to him: ‘Look, I didn’t shoot him because he said, ‘Just shoot me.”
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the officer was issued termination papers on June 6th, citing he had “failed to eliminate a threat.”
The notice of termination included two other minor incidents, one involving the other two officers who were involved in the shooting.
Mader believes he was not at fault, as he was never once given an opportunity to clarify the details of the cases. On June 29th, Mader was formally dismissed at a termination hearing held by the city. He did not attend.
Mader says the day after his termination letter, he read that the Chief of Police had said that all three officers were back to work and doing well.
“How can you say all the officers are doing well when you just terminated one yesterday?” Mader said in a recent interview. “I think he did that just to give the public a good view of the officers.”
Mader claims he knows exactly why he was let go.
“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.”
Still, Mader feels that the officers -who jumped into the middle of the situation- were justified, given the circumstances.
“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.”
Mader is a local of the town, having joined the police force after his 4-year service with the US Marine Corps, including a tour in Afghanistan.
“I was definitely excited,” he said, recalling the swearing-in ceremony. “It was the challenge. I like challenges; that’s the reason I joined the Marines because they said it was the hardest branch to be in. And I was excited because it was a better opportunity for my family and I was getting a chance to be an officer in the town I grew up in.”
Given his probationary status and the fact that West Virginia is an “at-will” employment state, it is unlikely that fighting the city would have had worthwhile results, despite an attorney’s suggestion that Mader could at the very least ask to resign.
“Look, I don’t want to admit guilt,“ he told the attorney. “I’ll take the termination instead of the resignation because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“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.”
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