Cop Fired and Harassed for NOT Shooting Suicidal Man Files Lawsuit

(ANTIMEDIAFatal officer-involved shootings don’t usually cause a break in the thin blue line, but one former cop is suing to get his job back after he used de-escalation tactics with a suicidal man before another officer killed the man nearly instantly.

Former police officer Stephen Mader sued his hometown of Weirton on Wednesday, claiming his West Virginia and U.S. constitutional rights were violated when he was “wrongfully terminated” for not shooting Ronald J. Williams in May of last year. Mader also claims the city “engaged in a pattern of retaliation designed to destroy [his] reputation” once his firing was made public, according to the lawsuit.

“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,” Mader told NBC News.

On the night of May 6, 2016, Mader responded to a 911 call of a domestic disturbance. A woman had reported that Williams, 21, was threatening to harm himself with a knife. Soon after, the same woman made a second call to 911 to report that Williams was going to his car to get a gun but that the gun was unloaded, a fact dispatchers never relayed to the responding officers, the lawsuit states.

When Mader arrived at the scene, he saw Williams with his hands behind his back and ordered him to show his hands. Williams revealed a silver pistol in his hand, and upon being ordered to drop it, said, “I can’t do that. Just shoot me.”

In that moment, Mader, a reserve West Virginia national guardsman and a former U.S. Marine who toured in Afghanistan, knew that all my training told me he was not a threat to others or me,”  he told Reuters.

Minutes later, however, two other Weirton Police officers arrived, and within seconds, Williams raised his weapon and Officer Ryan Kuzma shot him in the head, killing him. Williams’ gun was then confirmed to be unloaded at the scene.

 


Mader’s lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of West Virginia and attorney Timothy P. O’Brien, alleges that the department decided that in order to protect 10-year veteran Kuzma, Mader had to be the scapegoat. After two periods of administrative leave, Mader was fired in June.

The police department denies the lawsuit’s claim and sticks to its own statements from a September press conference that Mader was a “disgruntled employee” and “a bad cop.”

Mader never attempted to de-escalate the situation, according to the department, but instead yelled profanities at Williams and froze when Williams raised his gun. Other prior incidents were cited as the reason for the termination, including an improper search of a car without probable cause and incorrectly ruling a death as due to natural causes, which caused evidence to be moved in a crime scene.

Mader had only 10 months experience on the force, so because he was a probationary officer, the police union did not get involved, NBC News reported.

“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,” Mader’s attorney O’Brien said, according to NBC News. “When given the tragic, and, far too frequent unnecessary use of deadly force, 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.”

Beyond dealing with the city and police department, Mader has also been personally confronted by Kuzma, the officer who killed Williams.

Mader told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that following the September news conference, Kuzma called him “a coward” who “didn’t have the balls to save [his] own life,” in a text message, adding that Mader and his mother were “loud mouth pieces of s***.”

The next day, September 15, Kuzma allegedly tracked down Mader in full police uniform and “repeated the same profanity-laced allegations” while Mader was with an instructor and classmates training for a commercial driver’s license test. Mader’s lawsuit states that the instructor reported Kuzma to Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander, but that the chief “denied that the incident occurred and refused to take a report.”

The case, Stephen Mader v. City of Weirton, is in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.