Weirton, West Virginia authorities were called to a domestic dispute on the evening of May 6. Ex-marine and, now, former Weirton police officer Stephen Mader was the first cop to arrive on the scene.
When Mader arrived, he was confronted by 23-year-old Ronald Williams who was armed and demanding Officer Mader “just shoot me.”
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mader saw that Williams had a gun, but the gun was not pointed at him. Instead, the gun was pointed at the ground.
After taking a brief moment to ascertain the situation, Officer Mader began using what he considered to be his “calm voice.”
I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate [the situation]. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop [scenario].
This decision is ultimately the reason Mader has since been fired by Weirton Police.
Before Mader could deescalate the situation, two other police officers arrived on the scene. Ronald Williams approached those officers with his gun raised at which point those officers opened fire killing Williams.
The shooting was deemed justifiable by county prosecutors. Officer Mader agreed that the shooting was justified stating:
They did not have the information I did…they Don’t know anything I heard. All they know is [Ronald Williams] is waving a gun at them. It’s a shame it happened the way it did, but, I don’t think they did anything wrong.
Two different encounters and two different vantage points. Both equally plausible and potentially justifiable. However, upon returning to duty, Mader discovered that he was being investigated for putting the lives of other officers at risk.
According to Mader’s family attorney, Mader was fired for not shooting the armed suspect prior to the other officers arriving which, according to their investigation, put their lives at risk. The attorney stated that the manner in which Mader was fired is:
Clear evidence of their policy and that the way they feel [the shooting of Ronald Williams] should have been handled. Not only do they think he should have been shot and killed, but shot and killed more quickly.
Punished for Trying to Deescalate
To state that this entire case is counterintuitive to everything we would hope to expect out of police officers would be an understatement. However, to say that this is precisely what we’ve come to expect from far too many police officers.
Police are often called to handle situations that involve people with mental health issues or experiencing emotional distress. According to the Washington Post’s research, one-quarter of all police shootings involve distraught people.
That Ronald Williams was seeking suicide-by-cop is precisely why Officer Mader decided that this was a scenario that could potentially be resolved by deescalating the situation. Unfortunately, the arrival of the additional officers on the scene exacerbated Williams’ distress which robbed Mader of the chance to save his life.
And that Mader was fired for extending a moment of concern and humanity instead of promptly killing the man solidifies our suspicion that the problem of police shootings is not an individual officer problem but, rather, a systemic problem that institutionalizes the mindset of shoot first, ask questions later (or not at all).
This is not to condemn the two officers who had to make the decision to kill Mr. Williams based on the information they had available to them. It is, however, to condemn the officials who felt that, despite the information Mader had at his disposal, he should have killed the 23-year-old quicker.
h/t to Shaun King of New York Daily News