(CN) – A West Virginia police officer who was fired for choosing to try to calm rather than shoot a distraught man at the scene of an alleged domestic violence incident will receive $175,000 to end his wrongful termination suit in a settlement announced Monday.
On May 6, 2016, then-Officer Stephen Mader of Weirton West Virginia police force responded to a domestic violence call and came upon R.J. Williams who was armed but also “visibly distraught.”
Mader said he attempted to use his military training to de-escalate the situation, but Williams, who refused to relinquish what turned out to be an unloaded gun, was shot dead by another officer who arrived at the scene minutes later.
That officer was later cleared of any wrongdoing. But Weirton city officials said Mader froze at the scene and fired him. Mader responded in May 2017 by suing the city in federal court in Wheeling, West Virginia, on claims of wrongful termination and civil rights violations.
In his lawsuit Mader said when he first encountered Williams, the 21-year-old had his hands behind his back and appeared determined to commit “suicide by cop.”
After Williams revealed he’d been holding a gun behind his back, Mader said he made several attempts to convince the young man to drop the gun.
“Just shoot me,” Williams is reported to have said.
Mader says he responded by calmly repeating “I’m not going to shoot you, brother,” and again asking Williams to drop his weapon.
It was at this point that two other officers arrived at the scene, and one of them, newly hired by the department, fired four shots, killing Williams.
At that point, according to the complaint, it was discovered that Williams’ gun was indeed unloaded and he was not a threat.
Mader, a former Marine who served in Afghanistan, said in his complaint that following his termination, city officials engaged in an effort to destroy his reputation and prevent him from getting hired by another law enforcement agency.
This effort included a press conference held by the city after Mader’s firing at which it was claimed the officer was let go not only for how he handled the Williams incident, but also “multiple” prior incidents, the complaint says.
After the settlement was announced, Joseph Cohen, executive director for the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a written statement that the public has grown “accustomed” to reports of police-involved shootings, and that “no matter the public’s reaction, in nearly every instance, the offending cops are not prosecuted.”
“But in Weirton West Virginia, there is a bizarre opposite. Officer Mader was fired for not shooting a black man with a gun. The message the police department sent is tragically clear: Law Enforcement in Weirton should err on the side of killing people,” Cotton said.
Representatives of the parties to the settlement could not immediately be reached for comment.