This Marine Vet Was Fired By Police For Following His Military Instincts. Now He's Receiving Justice

news
City of Weirton/Facebook

When West Virginia Police Officer Stephen Mader responded to a domestic disturbance call at the Weirton home of Ronald Williams in May 2016, he found Williams standing distraught in his driveway.


Williams, 23, gripped a handgun and pleaded with the officer to fire his gun at him.

“Just shoot me, just shoot me,” Williams told Mader, according to a police report.

Mader, a Marine who served in Afghanistan, paused. He urged Williams to put the gun down, but Williams did not. Mader, nevertheless, did not consider deadly force necessary, seeing Williams as a danger only to himself.

Within a few minutes, two additional officers arrived on the scene. Williams raised the gun and one of the officers — not Mader — fired four times. Williams was fatally struck in the head.

The shooting occurred amid a national debate about deadly use of force by police and a number of cases involving officers fatally shooting black men. Williams was black.

Related: This Marine Vet Was Fired As A Cop For Following His Military Instincts »

In the weeks after the incident, Mader, who had been a member of the Weirton Police Department for less than a year when the Williams shooting happened, was placed on probation, and eventually fired. The officer who shot Williams was not disciplined.

Months later, Mader filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city, saying that he lost his job for declining to discharge his weapon during the encounter with Williams.

On Monday, Mader’s lawyers announced he had reached a settlement with the city of Weirton in the wrongful-termination lawsuit. Under the terms of the settlement, Weirton, near the Pennsylvania border about 35 miles west of Pittsburgh, agreed to pay the former officer $175,000.

Stephen Mader in an undated photographACLU/Stephen Mader

“No police officer should ever lose their job … for choosing to talk to, rather than shoot, a fellow citizen,” said Timothy O’Brien, who, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, represented Mader. “His decision to attempt to de-escalate the situation should have been praised, not punished. Simply put, no police officer should ever feel forced to take a life unnecessarily to save his career.”

At the time of his firing, officials from Weirton said Mader’s actions in his encounter with Williams, along with a pair of other incidents in which he allegedly searched vehicles without a warrant, led to his dismissal from the department.

Weirton officials did not respond Monday to a request for comment about the settlement.

In recent weeks, several police officers have been killed in the line of duty.

Since New Year’s Eve, three Colorado law enforcement officers have been shot and killed in separate incidents. In one of those incidents, last week, a officer in Colorado Springs, Colo., was shot and killed responding to a call of a stolen vehicle.

On Saturday, two police officers in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, were killed when they arrived at a residence where someone had called 911 and hung up. Their deaths drew condolences from President Donald Trump, who called the incident a “true tragedy.”

Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said there is no standard protocol regarding use of force.

“Each department had its own protocol, which should be part of their standard operating procedures. … In general, all the standard operating procedures are guidelines and recommendations and are not mandatory, leaving the officer much discretion,” Haberfeld said. “If the officer didn’t feel that his or others’ life was in danger, then he was absolutely within his rights to decide not to shoot.”

She added: “Ultimately, it is always about the officer’s perception of danger.”

Related: How Cops Are Gearing Up After Mass Killings And Police Shootings »

An officer’s perception of danger has been subjected to intense scrutiny in recent years, especially with readily available body-camera footage and bystanders with cellphone cameras.

In December, a former Mesa, Ariz., police officer was found not guilty of second-degree murder after he shot an unarmed man crouched in the hallway of a La Quinta Inns & Suites. Body-camera footage showed the officer, Philip Brailsford, shooting 26-year-old Daniel Shaver, who was white, with an AR-15 rifle.

“Please do not shoot me,” Shaver, on his hands and knees, said as he crouched in a hotel hallway moments before the shooting.

Brailsford testified that he feared for his life. The jury also found Brailsford not guilty of a lesser charge of reckless manslaughter.

Several other high-profile shootings in which use of force has been criticized by activists have involved police officers shooting unarmed black men.

In May, an Oklahoma jury acquitted an officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher as he stood with his hands above his head along a rural highway.

In June, a Minnesota jury acquitted the officer who killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop, which was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend. That same month, an Ohio judge declared a mistrial after jurors deadlocked, unable to agree on whether to convict a former University of Cincinnati police officer who killed Samuel DuBose in an incident captured on a body camera.

Mader, who since being fired from the Weirton Police Department has worked as a truck driver, said he’s relieved the case is over.

“At the end of the day, I’m happy to put this chapter of my life to bed,” he said in a statement released through his attorneys. “My hope is that no other person on either end of a police call has to go through this again.”

———

©2018 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.

Read More Show Less
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."

Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read More Show Less

Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."

"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."

First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.

"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."

Read More Show Less

D-Day veteran James McCue died a hero. About 500 strangers made sure of it.

"It's beautiful," Army Sgt. Pete Rooney said of the crowd that gathered in the cold and stood on the snow Thursday during McCue's burial. "I wish it happened for every veteran's funeral."

Read More Show Less