City of Weirton facing lawsuit over police officer termination

WEIRTON — A lawsuit is set to be filed against the City of Weirton in connection with the 2016 termination of a former city police officer.

In a release sent to news organizations throughout West Virginia early today, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and Pittsburgh-based attorney Timothy P. O’Brien announced their intention to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city in connection with the June 2016 firing of former Weirton police officer Stephen Mader.

A copy of the lawsuit attached to the news release indicated it would be filed today in U.S. District Court in Wheeling.

Mader was among Weirton police who responded to a report of a domestic incident in the city in May 2016, which resulted in the shooting death of Ronald D. “R.J.” Williams Jr., of Pittsburgh.

In interviews with a Pittsburgh newspaper, Mader stated his termination was connected to the shooting. Mader was reported to have been the first on the scene, noting he did not shoot Williams and instead was attempting to de-escalate the situation.

“The City of Weirton’s decision to fire officer Mader because he chose not to shoot and kill a fellow citizen — when he believed that he should not use such force, not only violates the Constitution, common sense and public policy — but incredibly punishes restraint — when given the tragic, and, far too frequent unnecessary use of deadly force,” O’Brien stated in the release. “Such restraint should be praised not penalized.”

Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia, said Mader did what police officers should do by attempting to de-escalate the situation.

“The Weirton Police Department, like so many others in West Virginia, needs training to appropriately engage with people, to fight the implicit biases that infect our society, and to make de-escalation a primary goal,” Cohen said.

Cohen also said the city “engaged in a campaign to harass Mader and tarnish his reputation,” claiming officials made false statements during a September 2016 press conference, sent profanity-laced text messages and spread misinformation about him.

When contacted this morning for comment, Weirton City Manager Travis Blosser said he could not respond to the lawsuit as the city had yet to be notified of any filing.

“Going forward, the lawsuit will be reviewed by legal counsel if and when it is filed,” Blosser said, noting a response from the city would come at a later date.

Mader had been sworn in as a probationary police officer with the city in July 2015. According to the information provided by the ACLU, Mader also is a retired U.S. Marine, with service in Afghanistan.

The shooting incident, and Williams’ death, were investigated by the West Virginia State Police.

The ACLU and O’Brien are requesting a jury trial, according to a copy of the legal filing provided to media.

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