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.