Settlement reached in officer lawsuit
WEIRTON — A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit over the 2016 termination of a former Weirton police officer.
The wrongful termination lawsuit was filed in May 2017, on behalf of former police officer Stephen Mader, by Pittsburgh attorney Timothy P. O’Brien and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia.
The settlement announced Monday by the ACLU, and confirmed by City Manager Travis Blosser, was for $175,000.
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 several interviews with Pittsburgh-area news outlets in 2017, Mader said his termination was connected to the shooting. Mader reportedly was the first on the scene, and he said he had been attempting to de-escalate the situation with Williams.
“We are pleased that Mr. Mader’s case has been successfully resolved, but this should never have happened,” O’Brien said, according to a press release issued Monday by the ACLU. “No police officer should ever lose their job — or have their name dragged through the mud — for choosing to talk to, rather than shoot, a fellow citizen.”
The ACLU and O’Brien initially requested a jury trial as part of the lawsuit.
Blosser, while noting he feels the city took appropriate action, explained the settlement was offered to Mader’s legal counsel by the city’s insurance provider.
“We did not have an opportunity to sign off, nor would we have signed off,” Blosser said, adding both parties were still holding depositions when the settlement offer was accepted. “This is a settlement. This case never even reached oral argument in front of a judge.”
Mader was still in his probationary time as an officer when he was let go, according to Blosser.
During a press conference held by city officials in September 2016, Blosser said Mader had been terminated for conduct unbecoming an officer following a series of three “major incidents,” including the shooting incident.
According to published reports, in March 2016, Mader was issued a verbal warning for placing a parking ticket inside a vehicle without having a search warrant and cursing at the owner’s wife. A charge of disorderly conduct against the car’s owner was later dropped.
A month later, reports state, Mader responded to a call about a cardiac arrest, finding a woman dead on a stairway. He reportedly determined the woman had died of natural causes. Officials stated Mader didn’t fill out a report and collected no evidence. The body was sent to the funeral home.
An autopsy determined the woman had sustained blunt force trauma to the neck and upper torso.
Mader was sworn in as a probationary police officer in Weirton in July 2015. He is a retired U.S. Marine with service in Afghanistan.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy to put this chapter of my life to bed,” Mader said, according to the ACLU 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.”
The shooting incident, and Williams’ death, were investigated by the West Virginia State Police.
During a news conference in June 2016, representatives of the State Police, Weirton Police and Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office discussed results of the investigation, which cleared the other officers involved of any wrongdoing.
The investigation, they said, concluded Williams had been intoxicated the night of the incident. When officers initially began arriving on scene, Williams reportedly had his hands behind his back, despite repeated requests. When Williams did comply, officers saw he had a gun and requested he put it down. Williams reportedly began pointing the gun at all of the officers, which led to one of the officers firing his service pistol, with the fourth shot striking Williams.
Williams’ gun was later found to be unloaded.
(Howell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)