Stephen Mader is a 25-year-old Marine veteran and former rookie police officer with the Weirton Police Department. On May 6th, Mader used the skills he developed as a Marine to attempt to de-escalate a potentially life ending situation with a drunk and armed man involved in a domestic dispute. Mader was later fired for his actions. A recent interview with NPR has brought Mader’s story back into the national spotlight.
Mader was riding alone in his squad car the night of the incident when dispatch received a call from a hysterical woman who said she “needed someone right now.” Mader was the first officer to arrive on scene. He found a drunk 23-year-old black man, Ronald D. Williams, standing on his front lawn with his hands suspiciously tucked behind his back.
Mader and Williams got into a verbal argument when Williams refused to show his hands. Williams lifted his hands enough for Mader to see he was carrying a silver pistol. While this verbal altercation was happening on the front lawn, Williams’ girlfriend was on the phone with dispatch explaining that her boyfriend was on the front lawn with an unloaded weapon attempting to coerce police into shooting him.
At the time of the incident, Mader had no way of knowing that Williams couldn’t harm him with the unloaded firearm but states that his military training kicked in. It was clear to Mader that Williams didn’t pose a threat to anyone. Mader told NPR:
“Before you go to Afghanistan, they give you training, You need to be able to kind of read people. Not everybody over there is a bad guy, but they all dress the same. That’s kind of what the situation was that night.”
He went on to say:
“For me, it wasn’t enough to kind of take someone’s life because they’re holding a gun that’s not pointed at me,”
Mader was attempting to talk Williams into dropping the weapon so he could arrest him when two other officers arrived at the scene of the crime to see Mader and Williams in what they thought was a life or death standoff. The backup officers immediately fired four shots, killing Williams.
It was later discovered that Williams’ gun was unloaded at the time of the incident. Both of the officers and Mader were not notified of Williams’ true intentions until after the shooting took place.
When they returned to the police station, Mader was told to meet with Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander. Alexander told Mader he would be put on administrative leave while an investigation was conducted. One month later he was terminated for putting two other officers, the officers that arrived as backup, in danger. Mader told NPR that one of his biggest regrets is that he didn’t have more time with Williams. He said:
“If I had maybe 30 more seconds, maybe it would’ve went different, Maybe I could have talked him down and just put him in handcuffs that night.”
Mader states that he still wants to be a police officer. He has been working as a commercial truck driver to put food on the table for his wife and two children. He said that he has been contacted by the ACLU and is considering legal action.
You can listen to Mader’s full interview with NPR below: