West Virginia Cop Fired For Exercising Discretion

Washington Post  We’ve tracked countless cases here where cops were able to keep their jobs after killing unarmed people, killing people after responding to the wrong house, killing people and then lying about it . . . the list goes on. Give the Weirton, W.Va., police chief some credit. He’s come up with a new spin on the the same problem. He just fired a cop for not killing someone. After responding to a report of a domestic incident on May 6 in Weirton, W.Va., then-Weirton police officer Stephen Mader found himself confronting an armed man. Immediately, the training he had undergone as a Marine to look at “the whole person” in deciding if someone was a terrorist, as well as his situational police academy training, kicked in and he did not shoot. “I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” Mr. Mader recalled, noting the silver handgun was in the man’s right hand, hanging at his side and pointed at the ground. Mr. Mader, who was standing behind Mr. Williams’ car parked on the street, said he then “began to use my calm voice.” “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.

Shootings involving law enforcement have been a fixture in the news over the past few years; some cases were instances of cops using justifiable force to respond to a given situation and others have been instances of poorly trained police exhibiting bad judgment and violating departmental procedures concerning use of force. This particular instance is unique in that an officer was fired by his department for choosing not to shoot an individual. Officer Stephen Mader was responding to a domestic incident when he encountered a seemingly suicidal man who had a gun but was not pointing it at the officer. Mader used his training, combined with his understanding of the situation he was facing, to make a determination that the man was not a threat and was acting in a way that he hoped would induce suicide by cop. Officer Mader made the type of judgment call that thousands of police are forced to make every year and in this instance he determined the man was not a threat. Ultimately, other officers who arrived on the scene shot the man, Ronald Williams Jr., dead; the gun Williams had was found to be unloaded. For his actions Mader was fired by his department. While Mader could have been justified in shooting Williams, he used his experience as a Marine serving in combat and as a police officer to assess the situation and determine that Williams was suicidal and hoping that Mader would shoot him. Officer Mader’s decision not to shoot was a difficult one, but his assessment of the situation was proven correct when Williams’ gun was found to be unloaded. Officer Mader’s judgment should be rewarded in this scenario, not punished. Police are forced to make difficult judgment calls every day in departments across the country, and when officers attempt to de-escalate situations by electing not to use force they can often put themselves at risk. By trusting his instincts and refraining from using deadly force, Officer Mader was putting himself in a potentially dangerous situation but was exhibiting superior judgment and actions that should be commended. Officer Mader’s attempt to de-escalate this perilous situation is the type of behavior that saves lives. Officer Mader is the type of heroic officer that exemplifies the best of American policing, he embodies the ideals of what a good police officer should be. This is not to say that the officers who shot Williams were entirely in the wrong, Williams was armed and exhibiting dangerous and erratic behavior. However, the message sent by the department in firing Williams is the exact opposite of the message that departments should be sending to their officers.

Charles Blaettler is a contributing writer to the East Coast Private Investigations of New Jersey blog. Charles is a graduate of Emory University where he majored in Middle Eastern Studies.  After graduating Emory he was commissioned as an Officer in the United States Marine Corps where he served as an Intelligence Officer. Charles holds a top secret government clearance and is currently employed in the private sector.

All views expressed by contributing writers should not be taken as views held by East Coast Private Investigations of New Jersey