Ideally, police officers should be praised for not shooting a suicidal man holding an unloaded gun. But a West Virginia cop who did exactly that has been fired, not honored.
In May, Stephen Mader, then a police officer in Weirton, West Virginia, confronted an armed man after responding to a domestic incident report. In similar situations, many cops might've been quick to shoot the man holding a gun, 23-year-old Ronald D. "R.J." Williams, Jr. But not Mader.
Using the training he learned as a Marine, he used his "calm voice" instead of his gun. He explained the situation to 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]."
Indeed, Williams' former girlfriend, who called 911, told the dispatcher that Williams had a knife and a gun and was threatening to either kill himself or make the police kill him, the Post-Gazette previously reported. Williams' former girlfriend said Williams went into the room where their son was sleeping and threatened her: "I’m going to kill myself in front of you and the child, and you’re going to live with this the rest of your life, and our son is going to know you caused my death." She said that, after she called 911, Williams unloaded the gun and said to her, "You know what? I’m going to make the cops do it."
But as Mader was handling the situation safely and responsibly, two other police officers arrived at the scene. Then, according to the Post-Gazette, "Mr. Williams walked toward them waving his gun—later found to be unloaded—between them and Mr. Mader, and one of them shot Mr. Williams’ in the back of the head just behind his right ear, killing him."
In May, a West Virginia prosecutor said Williams' death "doesn’t appear to be anything other than an unfortunate situation where the gentleman utilized the police to commit suicide." Later, the prosecutor concluded that the officers were justified in the shooting, so they faced no punishment.
Mader, however, was fired shortly after the incident.
After the normal protocol of taking time off after an officer-involved shooting, Mader returned to work, where the police chief 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." According to the Post-Gazette, Mader immediately explained to the police chief, "Look, I didn’t shoot him because he said, 'Just shoot me.'"
Nonetheless, Mader was terminated less than a month later because, the letter said, he "failed to eliminate a threat" by not shooting Williams. Instead of resigning, as one attorney advised, Mader accepted termination. He explained to the Post-Gazette: "To resign and admit I did something wrong here would have ate at me. I think I’m right in what I did. I’ll take it to the grave."
The Williams family's attorney, Jack Dolance, told the Post-Gazette Mader's termination "is pretty clear evidence of their policy and that the way they [the police] feel [the shooting of Mr. Williams] should have been handled. Not only do they think he should have been shot and killed, but shot and killed more quickly."
The father and Marine, who served in Afghanistan, is currently out of a job (unlike too many bad cops) and studying to get his commercial license to drive trucks. Mader is open to going back into law enforcement if he's offered another job.
Colin Kaepernick, who's received widespread attention for protesting police killing black men by sitting during the National Anthem, weighed in on the fatal shooting on Twitter:
This describes what is wrong with our system! A man is Fired for NOT killing a citizen! https://t.co/c0VpO6O4tY— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 13, 2016