A former police officer in West Virginia believes he was terminated after he refused to shoot a Black man holding an unloaded gun.
On May 6, Stephen Mader responded to a domestic dispute. When the Weirton officer arrived on the scene, he found 23-year-old Ronald “RJ” Williams holding a gun. Immediately, Mader assessed the situation and deduced that the situation did not call for him to fire his weapon.
“I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” Mader told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “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. I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop [situation].”
Because he could tell the man appeared to have some type of death wish, Mader wanted to do what he could to save the man’s life.
During the exchange between Mader and Williams, two additional Weirton officers arrived on the scene and Williams walked towards them, waving his gun. One of the officers then shot Williams in the back of the head, killing him on site.
After Williams’s death, officials learned that the gun he was waving was not loaded.
The West Virginia State Police opened a month-long investigation to determine whether or not the shooting of Williams was justified. At the end of the investigation, the WV State Police concluded the shooting was appropriate. However, Mader’s supervisors felt that he acted inappropriately when he refused to shoot someone who appeared to pose a life threat.
Eleven days after the shooting, Mader returned to work and had a meeting with Police Chief Rob Alexander. In the meeting, 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.”
Mader received a letter of termination one day before the State Police announced the shooting of Williams was justified.
The notice of termination included two other incidents that cited Mader acted improperly. One was an incident in April where neither he nor two other officers reported the suspicious the death of an elderly woman who appeared to have had a stroke and fallen in her home. And another incident where a woman complained that Mader swore at her when he arrested her husband for disorderly conduct.
Mader said he was never given an opportunity to explain his actions in either of those cases.
After he was fired, Mader attempted to hire an attorney to legally fight the city, yet his attorney advised him that the best thing he could do would be to ask to resign instead of being fired.