Police officer sacked for not shooting black man holding an unloaded gun

Stephen Mader says he was told he 'failed to eliminate a threat' and put colleagues in harm's way

Tuesday 13 September 2016 14:54 BST
Stephen Mader, centre, at his swearing in ceremony (City of Weirton, Facebook)
Stephen Mader, centre, at his swearing in ceremony (City of Weirton, Facebook)

A police officer has been sacked in West Virginia for apparently failing to open fire on a man brandishing an unloaded gun.

The case will anger police brutality activists who have raised dozens of other cases in which officers have shot dead unarmed suspects and escaped punishment.

Speaking for the first time about the incident that happened in May, Stephen Mader told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette how he tried to de-escalate a dangerous situation.

He said his training helped him when he was dispatched to a domestic dispute and found Ronald Williams, 21, armed with a handgun

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Things changed when two other officers arrived on the scene. Williams was shot dead as he walked towards them.

A police investigation concluded that the killing was justified despite the gun being unloaded.

But it tapped into a wider debate in America about race relations. All three officers were white while the victim was black.

Mr Mader said that when he tried to return to work after the episode, he was summoned to the office of Rob Alexander, the Weirton Police Chief

Mr Mader said Mr Alexander 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.”

Ronald Williams was shot dead in May after police were called to a domestic dispute
Ronald Williams was shot dead in May after police were called to a domestic dispute (Handout)

He was later informed that his contract had been terminated, because by not shooting Williams he had “failed to eliminate a threat”.

The termination letter detailed two other complaints, both of which Mr Mader disputes.

Lawyers were unable to help him. They said he had little legal recourse other than to resign in an effort to protect his reputation.

To add insult to injury, just a day later Mr Alexander was reported as saying that all three officers involved in the incident were back at work and doing well.

“How can you say all the officers are doing well when you just terminated one yesterday?” Mr Mader told the newspaper. “I think he did that just to give the public a good view of the officers.”

But he said he didn’t blame his fomer colleagues for the shooting as they did not have all the information that he did.

“All they know is [Mr. Williams] is waving a gun at them,” he said. “It’s a shame it happened the way it did, but, I don’t think they did anything wrong.”

City officials have not responded to requests for comment.

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