In cases of officer-involved shootings, it’s common practice for a police officer to be placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated. Sometimes, that investigation results in termination — but most times, cops who kill get to keep their jobs.
So what happens when an officer is fired for NOT shooting and killing a suspect?
That was the case for former Weirton, West Virginia cop Stephen Mader. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Weirton Police Department terminated Mader for failing to shoot a Black man who wielded an unloaded weapon.
Mader was responding to a report of a domestic disturbance on May 6 when he was confronted by 23-year-old Ronald D. “R.J.” Williams Jr. of Pittsburgh. Mader, a former U.S. Marine, said Williams was armed with a silver handgun at the time of their encounter.
“I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” the former cop recalled, noting that the man’s weapon was in his right hand, aimed at the ground. “I told him, ‘Put down the gun,’ and he’s like, ‘Just shoot me.’ ”
Mader said he used his military and police academy training to determine whether Williams was a threat to him and others around him. He said he assured the man that he wasn’t going to shoot — and he didn’t.
“I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate it,” Mader explained. “I knew it was a suicide-by-cop” situation.
That’s when two other officers arrived on the scene, one of whom shot Williams in the back of the head, right behind the ear, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The man reportedly approached the officers waving his gun, which was later discovered to be unloaded. Williams ultimately died from his injuries.
A month-long investigation by the West Virginia State Police deemed the fatal shooting justified, Hancock County prosecutor Jim Davis announced at a press conference in June.
But things took an interesting turn when Mader tried to return to work after taking some personal time off following the shooting. According to the local paper, Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander informed the soon-to-be ex-officer that he was being placed on administrative leave and investigated for “putting two other officers in danger.”
Less than a month later on June 7, Mader received a letter of termination. The department’s reason for firing him? They claimed that the former officer “failed to eliminate a threat” by refusing to shoot Williams.
The pink slip also cited two other incidents where Mader was thought to have behaved “improperly:” an incident in April where he, nor the other two officers involved in the Williams case, reported the suspicious death of an elderly woman; and an incident in May when a woman accused the ex-officer of using foul language with her when she asked why her husband was being arrested for disorderly conduct, the Post-Gazette reports.
Days later, Chief Alexander reportedly told the public, along with Williams’ family, that all three officers involved in the shooting were back at work and doing well.
“How can you say all the officers are doing well when you just terminated one yesterday?” Mader told the publication in an interview. “I think he did that just to give the public a good view of the officers.”
Despite his questionable termination, the former officer has since voiced support for his fellow officers — the same officers who shot and killed Williams. Mader asserted that the two responding officers didn’t have the same information he did; they only saw the man walking toward them waving a gun. Thus, they were justified in their actions.
The Post-Gazette reports that the ex-officer is now going to school to get his commercial license to drive big rigs.