WEIRTON, W.Va. – A settlement agreement was reached between former Weirton police officer Stephen Mader and the City of Weirton in a lawsuit challenging the termination of Mr. Mader’s employment because he chose not to shoot and kill a suicidal Black man whom he concluded did not pose a threat warranting the use of deadly force. The Law Office of Timothy O’Brien and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) sued the City of Weirton for wrongful termination on behalf of Mr. Mader in May of 2017. Under the terms of the settlement, the City of Weirton—among other relief--paid Mr. Mader a sum of $175,000 to dismiss the lawsuit.
"At the end of the day, I'm happy to put this chapter of my life to bed," said Stephen Mader. "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."
In May 2016, Mr. Mader was the first responding officer on the scene of an alleged domestic disturbance. When he arrived, he encountered R.J. Williams, a young Black man. During the course of their interaction, Mr. Mader discovered that Mr. Williams was holding a gun. After a brief standoff, during which Mr. Williams pleaded with Mr. Mader to shoot him, Mr. Mader believed that Mr. Williams –who was obviously distraught-- was attempting to commit suicide by cop. Mr. Mader attempted to deescalate the situation. When two other officers arrived on the scene, one of them opened fire killing Mr. Williams. Mr. Williams gun—it was later learned--was unloaded. Immediately after the incident, Weirton placed Mr. Mader on probation and a short time later fired him from his job.
“We are pleased that Mr. Mader’s case has been successfully resolved, but this should never have happened,” said Timothy O’Brien, Lead Counsel. “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 is a Marine and Afghanistan war veteran who served his country and community with competence and courage. His decision to attempt to de-escalate the situation should have been praised not punished. Simply put no police officer should ever feel forced to take a life unnecessarily to save his career.”
In May 2017, the ACLU-WV and attorney Timothy O’Brien filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the City of Weirton on behalf of Mr. Mader. The lawsuit argued, in part, that terminating a police officer for failing to shoot a person the officer deemed no threat to the officer or others was in violation of West Virginia public policy.
“The termination of Stephen Mader was yet another incident exposing the toxic culture that infects far too many police departments in America,” said ACLU-WV Executive Director Joseph Cohen. “We need to give law enforcement officers tools to effectively serve their communities. That means we need to invest in de-escalation training, implicit bias training and crisis intervention training. Hopefully the resolution of this lawsuit will send a message to the City of Weirton and police departments across the country that our communities deserve thoughtful, compassionate, transparent law enforcement.”
Mr. Mader continues to reside in Weirton with his family.