Weirton police officer Stephen Mader would seem the very model of courage after he confronted an armed man and, rather than just shooting him (which seems all too common today), he engaged Ronald D. Williams Jr., (shown left) in conversation to try to get him to drop the gun. He said the gun was not pointed at him and was by his side (it turned out to a unloaded and he believed it was a case of “suicide by cop”). He was speaking to the man when two other officers arrived and shot and killed the man. Mader was then fired. Why? Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander and his colleagues believe Mader should have just killed the man and been done with it.
As Radley Balko noted, we are so used to police just shooting people, Mader seemed a refreshing, if not inspiring, example of restraint. It was an example that Alexander did not want repeated.
The incident occurred on May 6th in Weirton, West Virginia, after a call from William’s girlfriend. She told police in the call that Williams was threatening to kill himself, not others. Mader (a former Marine) said that his training told him that the man could be engaged and potentially disarmed. He spoke to him calmly about dropping the weapon while positioning himself behind a car. The man told him “Just shoot me” and Mader was convinced he was just trying to commit suicide. He told him “I’m not going to shoot you brother.” The man would flick his wrist to try to get him to shoot but Mader kept behind the car and speaking with him. Then he starts flicking his wrist to get me to react to it.
It turns out that Mader was right. The gun was unloaded and, as William’s girlfriend said, he was trying to commit suicide. Alexander fired Mader for putting the other officers at risk by not immediately gunning down Williams and that he had “failed to eliminate a threat.”
We we have seen in other cases of elderly or disoriented individuals. This has included cases of police shootings with people “walking with a purpose” or holding a small screwdriver or holding a toy truck or reaching for a cane or other items. Here is an officer who correctly sized up the situation as a suicide by cop and tried to save a life.
The question is whether the people will stand for this. It is Chief Alexander who should be looking for new employment not this former Marine who grew up in Weirton, served in Afghanistan, and has two young boys to raise. What Mader has is guts and integrity. When those boys grow up, they will know that their Dad put everything on the line “to serve and protect.”