A former police officer who claimed he was fired for not shooting an armed black suspect during a standoff has settled a wrongful termination suit with his former department for $175,000 (£126,000).
“At the end of the day, I’m happy to put this chapter of my life to bed,” said Stephen Mader, 27, in a statement. He was also granted a pledge that his former employer would not prevent him from obtaining a new job in law enforcement elsewhere.
Mr Mader was the first officer to respond to an incident, when he arrived at a home in Weirton, West Virginia, on 6 May 2016, where he found Ronald Williams, 23, distraught and wanting to commit “suicide by cop,” according to his lawsuit. Williams pleaded with Mr Mader to shoot him. However, after determining that Williams did not pose an immediate threat to him or fellow officers, despite holding a gun, he tried to negotiate with him.
Mr Mader pleaded with Williams, who replied “just shoot me”. Even as he attempted to de-escalate the situation, Williams pleaded repeatedly: “Just shoot me.” But, as Mr Mader was attempting to calm him, two more Weirton police officers arrived on the scene and almost immediately, shot and killed Williams. Williams' gun soon turned out to be unloaded.
Mr Mader, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, received a termination of employment letter 10 days later. The letter claimed he had failed to respond to the threat. “The unfortunate reality of police work is that making any decision is better than making no decision at all,” it read.
The City of Weirton defended the firing at the time. They said Mr Mader had worsened the situation by cursing at Williams and in two other incidents wrongly searched a vehicle without a warrant and contaminated a crime scene.
Mr Mader disagreed and filed a suit alleging wrongful termination. “No police officer should ever lose their job – or have their name dragged through the mud – for choosing to talk to, rather than shoot a fellow citizen,” Mr Mader’s attorney Timothy O’Brien said after the settlement.
After filing his suit, the city argued that Mr Mader was actually terminated for two other prior incidents and not for refraining from shooting Williams. However, the claim didn’t match the content of the termination letter, which directly and repeatedly criticised Mr Mader for not shooting.
The city said in a statement that the decision to settle was made by its insurance provider and that it stood by its decision to fire Mr Mader, who now works as a truck driver.