When police officers refuse to kill

This week, APM Reports’ Curtis Gilbert unveiled an excellent piece of work looking at the lack of training police officers are provided on how not to kill.

Gilbert didn’t include the case of Stephen Mader, a cop who was happy to get the job in his hometown when he returned from serving two tours in Afghanistan as a Marine.

Mader is out of a job in Weirton, W.Va., now because he refused to kill a man.

But Ronald J. Williams is dead anyway because other officers didn’t see what Gilbert did, based on his experiences in the military. Williams wasn’t a threat to the police; he was despondent.

“He wasn’t screaming, yelling, he wasn’t angry. He just seemed distraught. Whenever he told me to shoot him it was as if he was pleading with me,” Mader tells NBC News. “At first, I’m thinking, ‘Do I really need to shoot this guy?’ But after hearing ‘just shoot me’ and his demeanor, it was, ‘I definitely can’t.'”

Mader had made a “connection” with Williams. He was de-escalating the situation.

He said that he was trying to talk Williams into putting the gun down. “Everything was verbal,” he said. That’s when Mader and Williams both saw the police cruiser driving up the road. And in that moment, when Mader lost his connection with Williams, everything changed.

The officers stepped out of their cruiser. Williams started waving his empty gun around in the air. Then, within seconds, gunfire. Williams fell to the ground with a bullet in his head.

A little more than a week later Mader got word that the department would be conducting an investigation into the shooting. He was placed on administrative leave. Then, weeks later, he was fired. Mader said he never once was interviewed or questioned about what he did, didn’t do or why. Since then he hasn’t had any contact with anyone from the department. But after his story became national news, officers from across the country and around the globe have sent their well wishes.

“I wouldn’t change anything. Even after them saying that I failed to eliminate a threat and that it should have been handled differently, I still believe I did the right thing,” Mader said. “And a lot of people think I did the right thing, too. I know it’s not just me.”

Today, Mader filed a lawsuit against the city.

“When given the tragic, and, far too frequent unnecessary use of deadly force, such restraint should be praised not penalized,” his attorney said. “To tell a police officer, when in doubt either shoot to kill, or get fired, is a choice that no police officer should ever have to make and is a message that is wrong and should never be sent.”

(h/t: Bryan Reynolds)

From the archive: What went wrong in Roseville mental health police call? (NewsCuty)

  • Paul

    I just listened to the Reveal episode this AM; the deescalation portion of the segment reminded me of previous articles written here and thought you’d enjoy. Glad to see you caught it.

    The split reactions among police officers on the deescalation training is interesting, especially given the numbers to prove it to be successful.

  • Jerry

    I know you’re not always responsible for the headlines, but it doesn’t seem accurate to the story you are telling. It doesn’t seem that he refused to kill, rather that he was willing to assess the situation first.

    • From the piece:

      But after hearing ‘just shoot me’ and his demeanor, it was, ‘I definitely can’t.’”

      I wrote the headline. It’s accurate.

      • Jerry

        I’m no editor, my first reading is probably just different than you intended.

    • Rob

      I did a double-take on the headline too. I interpreted it to mean a cop was in a situation where he/she should have probably used deadly force, but wrongly decided not to.

      • Well, the reason he was fired was that’s exactly what his bosses were saying.

        That said, there’s nothing in the headline that establishes judgement for whether he should or shouldn’t have. He simply refused to be the one to kill the guy.

        In this case, the gentleman was asking the officer to shoot him. The officer said “no”.

        • Rob

          OK then.

  • Annie Possis

    This is very confusing….WHY was this anecdote not included in the larger piece? You lead off with that, then just drop it…? Very important topic and I want to learn more.

    • I supplied a link to Curtis series. There’s a ton there. Did you follow it?

      • Annie Possis

        Yes, I did, thank you. I read it as you were trying to make some sort of point by saying that “Gilbert didn’t include the case of Stephen Mader…”, when I guess you were just saying, “Here’s another story about this..”? Sorry! 🙂

        • that’s correct.

          • Annie Possis

            Just so you don’t think I’m a complete nut…the reason this stood out to me is because it was featured/written this way at the very top of the MPR News Update PM Edition I received in my inbox:
            “Good afternoon! This week, APM Reports’ Curtis Gilbert unveiled a piece of work looking at the lack of training police officers are provided on how not to kill. The case of Stephen Mader was not included. Mader was a cop, now out of a job because he refused to kill a man.”

          • Ah. I have nothing to do with the email newsletter.

            And, no, I don’t think you’re a complete nut or a nut at all. You’re reading NewsCut. That’s proof you’re not.

  • AmiSchwab

    getting fired for doing the right humane thing.
    only in america.

  • Rob

    Another one for the Life Is Cheap file.
    I heard Gilbert’s report while driving back from the Margo/Forehead area Monday. As he intimated, when the only tool a police officer has is a gun, it’s likely to be used in situations where it’s absolutely the wrong tool for the job.

  • MikeB

    His military training included how to deal with these situations and that it exceeded what his peers and superiors had. Maybe they should learn what he has to say on these matters.

    • JoeInMidwest

      I agree that his training sounded insightful. Clearly, that will not happen as the police department affirmed the policy of shoot first, ask questions later.

  • Mike Worcester

    The video of that entire encounter is fascinating. How Officer Mader is able to talk the subject down without a shred of violence being committed, by either person, is quite a sight.