WEIRTON, W.Va. — A fired Weirton police officer is getting $175,000 from the Hancock County city as part of a settlement agreement which includes other relief and brings to an end a lawsuit filed in May 2017 challenging his termination.
Timothy O’Brien and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia sued Weirton for wrongful termination, due process violations and reputation damage on behalf of former Weirton Officer Stephen Mader.
Mader claimed he was fired because he did not shoot a black man with a gun on the night of May 6, 2016 when, as a probationary officer, Mader was the first to respond to the scene of an alleged domestic disturbance.
In Mader’s account, he arrived to find an “emotionally upset, but not aggressive or violent” Ronald “R.J.” Williams, 23, of Pittsburgh, attempting to commit “suicide by cop” and pleading with Mader to shoot him, according to the lawsuit filing.
Mader, a U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan, said he used his training to determine that, though Williams had a silver handgun which was later confirmed to be unloaded, he was only a threat to himself, no one else — including Mader.
Mader did not shoot.
“Officer Mader behaved in a way that, frankly, we would want all officers to behave in,” said Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia.
Williams was shot and killed when two other Weirton police officers arrived at the scene.
A State Police investigation found the shooting was justified.
Following the investigation, Mader was fired on June 7, 2016 due to his alleged “failure to meet probationary standards of an officer” and “apparent difficulties in critical incident reasoning,” the lawsuit alleged.
At one point, Weirton officials said he’d been fired due to “multiple” prior incidents. He was publicly labeled a “disgruntled employee” and “a bad cop.”
“They essentially fired him for failing to violate R.J. Williams’ 4th Amendment right not to get shot,” said Cohen. “We simply refused to believe that a police officer could lawfully be fired for failing to violate someone’s Constitutional rights.”
The Use of Force Policy for the Weirton Police Department prohibits a Weirton police officer from using deadly force except “in defense of himself/herself or others from an objectively reasonable belief of an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.”
“An immediate threat” is also a requirement for the used of deadly force by an officer in the U.S. Constitution and the West Virginia Constitution.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy to put this chapter of my life to bed,” Mader said in a Monday statement about the settlement the ACLU of West Virginia provided.
“The events leading to my termination were unjustified and I’m pleased a joint resolution has been met. My hope is that no other person on either end of a police call has to go through this again.”
Mader, who still lives in Weirton with his family, is now working as a truck driver.
“We hope that the resolution of this lawsuit will send a message to the City of Weirton and to police departments all across the State of West Virginia that our communities deserve thoughtful, compassionate and transparent law enforcement,” Cohen said.