Weirton, WV — As TFTP reported last year, former Weirton police officer Stephen Mader sued the city after he was fired for not killing a suicidal man who needed help. Mader received $175,000 in a settlement as a result of his unnecessary firing. But the successful settlement was the beginning of a dark road for this hero cop who was unafraid to show restraint.
“My hope is that no other person on either end of a police call has to go through this again," said Mader at the time. Sadly, however, this former Marine has since been forced to move because the intimidation and bullying has gotten so bad.
West Virginia attorney and ACLU representative Timothy P. O'Brien helped to bring the lawsuit against the city.
"No police officer should ever lose their job … for choosing to talk to, rather than shoot, a fellow citizen," said O'Brien. "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."
But this was not the case. Mader was fired, intimidated and forced out of town by a department who thinks it's more important to kill people than to try to save them.
As we reported at the time, on May 6, 2016, Mader responded to a domestic call about a suicidal person. When he arrived on the scene, Mader confronted 23-year-old Ronald D. Williams who was armed and mentally distraught.
Williams' family called police and noted on the 911 call that he was attempting suicide by cop but that the gun had no bullets and didn't even contain the magazine.
Madar said when he arrived, he began talking to the young man in his “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 de-escalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop” situation," Mader said, adding that, "He wasn't screaming, yelling, he wasn't angry. He just seemed distraught. Whenever he told me to shoot him it was as if he was pleading with me. At first, I'm thinking, 'Do I really need to shoot this guy?' But after hearing 'just shoot me' and his demeanor, it was, 'I definitely can't.'"
Mader showed incredible restraint in the situation, even though Williams was attempting to provoke a suicide by cop.
"It is a red flag,' Mader told ProPublica in a recent interview. "I was just trying to calm him down. It was really just talking to him like he was a human being — talk to him like a guy who was in a wrong state of mind, like a guy who needed to be calmed down, who needed help.
"I didn't want to shoot him. I don't want to say this, because it's really corny, but I was kind of sacrificing my well-being for him. I'm not going to shoot this kid for my well-being. I'm going to wait to see more from him."
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Sadly, as Mader began to reason with Williams and de-escalate the situation, backup arrived, and another officer, Ryan Kuzma immediately shot and killed Williams without a second of consideration.
To add insult to injury, Mader was fired for his restraint, and Kuzma, who murdered Williams, was cleared of all wrongdoing, showing that the police department is explicitly encouraging indiscriminate killings.
"I loved being a police officer. And for them to say because of this incident you're not going to continue here was heartbreaking. It had me questioning myself, should I be an officer," Mader told NBC.
Mader would eventually be forced to find work as a truck driver and leave his police career behind but nor before enduring a slew of abuse at the hands of the killer cop.
Mader claims Kuzma repeatedly texted him calling him a 'coward' and blamed him for threats being made against the department.
"There's the thin blue line, and one of the ironies of this case is that as we've seen across the county how many instances police have used deadly force in circumstances where that force is questioned, but nothing is ever done. In most cases, you don't see training or suspension. When you contrast with what Officer Mader did and how he's been treated, and officers who've used deadly force and how they've been treated, it speaks volumes to why we have a problem with deadly force in this country," O'Brien said.
Illustrating his stand up character, Mader has no regrets and still believes he did the right thing.
"I wouldn't change anything. Even after them saying that I failed to eliminate a threat and that it should have been handled differently, I still believe I did the right thing. And a lot of people think I did the right thing, too. I know it's not just me," he said. And he's right, TFTP knows Mader did the right thing, which is why we've been reporting on it for over two years.
There is one silver lining, however, to the end of this tragic story and that is the fact that Williams' family has been outspoken about their appreciation for Mader's attempt to de-escalate.
"My brother wasn't alone, that there was someone there that was looking at him as a person. I found him [Stephen] on Facebook, and I ended up messaging him on Messenger, just to thank him for what he did for my brother, and for being there for him," Williams' sister, Amanda told ProPublica.
"He said that he just wished that he could have had a few more seconds, that he wished it would have turned out different, that my brother would still be alive."
Shooting and killing suicidal or mentally distraught people sadly seems to be the standard operating procedure for police across the country. We have covered countless cases over the years where officers have indiscriminately killed suicidal people instead of helping them out.
Obviously, if a family member makes a phone call to police because a loved one is suicidal, the last thing they want is for someone to get hurt, but when police arrive the situation tends to escalate quickly and result in violence.