A former West Virginia police officer who was fired after not shooting a suicidal man wielding an unloaded gun has reached a settlement in a wrongful termination lawsuit that has drawn national headlines.
The city of Weirton, W.V., agreed on Friday to pay Stephen Mader, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served two tours of duty, $175,000 to dismiss his lawsuit against the city and the Weirton Police Department.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and the law office of Timothy O'Brien filed a federal lawsuit on Mader's behalf last year, after the Weirton Police Department fired him for failing to shoot Ronald Williams, a 21-year-old black man Mader believed was trying to commit "suicide by cop."
"At the end of the day, I'm happy to put this chapter of my life to bed," Mader said in a statement. "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."
Reason reported last May, after Mader's lawsuit was filed:
Williams' girlfriend had called 911 to report he was threatening to kill himself, and that he had an unloaded gun.
"When I arrived at the scene, Mr. Williams was pleading for me to shoot him. He didn't appear angry or aggressive," Mader said in a statement. "He seemed depressed. As a Marine vet that served in Afghanistan and as an active member of the National Guard, all my training told me he was not a threat to others or me. Because of that I attempted to deescalate the situation. I was just doing my job."
Shortly after, another officer arrived on the scene and fatally shot Williams after Williams raised his gun. The gun was unloaded. State investigators later determined the shooting was justified.
Roughly a month later, Mader received a termination letter from the police department that stated he had "failed to eliminate a threat."
After the incident started to attract negative media attention, Weirton police officials held a press conference saying Mader had "multiple" prior conduct incidents. According to the lawsuit, the officer who shot Williams texted Mader after the press conference, and called him a "coward" who "didn't have the balls to save [his] own life."
Travis Blosser, Weirton's city manager, told The Washington Post the city is "pleased to see that the matter is over with."
Mader has not returned to law enforcement and now works as a truck driver.
"The termination of Stephen Mader was yet another incident exposing the toxic culture that infects far too many police departments in America," ACLU-WV executive director Joseph Cohen said in a statement. "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."
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