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|Posted: 05/10/17 4:48 pm ::: Officer fired for not shooting man
|Can't easily catch a link from an app on my iphone so i'm posting the entire article. this from today's pittsburgh post-gazette.
Weirton officer fired for not shooting man sues city
By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazett
Wed May 10, 2017 7:19 AM PDT
The day after the city of Weirton’s manager and police chief publicly called him a bad cop because they said he “froze” when he did not shoot a black man holding a gun last May, Stephen Mader got a text from the officer who did shoot and kill the man.
According to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal district court in Wheeling by Mr. Mader challenging the city’s decision to fire him, officer Ryan Kuzma told Mr. Mader on Sept. 14 that he was “a coward” and “didn’t have the balls to save [his] own life.”
The text also said that Mr. Mader and his mother were “loud mouth pieces of” excrement who would get someone in law enforcement killed.
Officer Kuzma, a 10-year veteran of the force, was not done, though. The day after he sent the text, he tracked down Mr. Mader, who was training to get his commercial driver’s license, went there in full police uniform “and repeated the same profanity laced allegations in front of Mr. Mader’s instructor and classmates.”
Mr. Mader’s instructor later called and reported Officer Kuzma’s actions to Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander, the lawsuit said, but Chief Alexander “denied that the incident occurred and refused to take a report.”
The firing of Mr. Mader became national news in September after the Post-Gazette reported that he was fired after he decided not to shoot Ronald D. “R.J.” Williams Jr., a 23-year-old black man from Pittsburgh, in the early morning hours of May 6, 2016, in Weirton.
Mr. Mader maintains that based on his training both as a Marine who served in Afghanistan and as a police officer in Weirton, he concluded that Mr. Williams was not a risk to harm to others — despite the fact that he was holding a gun — when Mr. Mader pulled up in front of the home of Mr. Williams’ former girlfriend.
Mr. Williams and his girlfriend — the mother of his young son — had just had a verbal fight and she called 911, telling them he was suicidal. She also told the dispatcher that Mr. Williams’ gun was unloaded — information the dispatcher did not relay to police.
“Just shoot me,” Mr. Mader said Mr. Williams told him repeatedly, something Mr. Mader quickly decided meant that Mr. Williams was trying to commit “suicide by cop” but that he was not intending to shoot him or anyone else.
Mr. Mader said he tried to calm Mr. Williams down, and thought he was making progress in getting him to let go of the gun, when Officer Kuzma and another officer arrived on the scene. As they approached Mr. Williams, he began waving his gun — later found to be unloaded — at them and Mr. Mader.
When Mr. Williams ignored Officer Kuzma’s order to put the gun down, Officer Kuzma shot him, with one bullet hitting him in the head over and behind his right ear, killing him.
The lawsuit argues that the reason the city fired Mr. Mader was to back the decision by Officer Kuzma to shoot Mr. Williams.
“Rather than respect Mr. Mader’s informed judgment and experience, the City of Weirton, in a flawed effort to buttress the other officer’s use of deadly force, wrongfully terminated Mr. Mader’s employment,” the lawsuit reads, in part. “When that termination came to light in the local press, the City then engaged in a pattern of retaliation designed to destroy Mr. Mader’s reputation.”
What is odd about Officer Kuzma’s text and confrontation with Mr. Mader in the days after the city’s press conference is that then and now Mr. Mader has argued that Officer Kuzma did the right thing.
“They did not have the information I did,” Mr. Mader said in September of Officer Kuzma and the third officer on the scene. “They don’t know anything I heard. All they know is [Mr. Williams] is waving a gun at them. It’s a shame it happened the way it did, but, I don’t think they did anything wrong.”
In an interview this week, Mr. Mader said he still feels that way about what Officer Kuzma did.
And he’s not upset that he sent the text and confronted him.
“I just know he wanted to get something off his chest,” he said of what Officer Kuzma wrote and said. “He asked me why I did it the way I did, and I told him my side of it. He said what he said, and he just left.”
But Mr. Mader does not have the same understanding for Chief Alexander’s reply to his instructor that the incident with Officer Kuzma at his training site did not happen.
“He’s basically calling me a liar. He’s calling the instructor a liar. He’s calling my classmate [who also heard Officer Kuzma’s comments] a liar,” Mr. Mader said. “He’s saying it didn’t happen when it clearly happened.”
Mr. Mader’s initial decision to talk with the Post-Gazette last year came after he became incensed that Chief Alexander said in a June press conference, when the county prosecutor announced that the shooting of Mr. Williams was justified, that all three officers involved in the shooting were back at work. That press conference in June was held just hours after Chief Alexander told Mr. Mader he was being fired for not shooting Mr. Williams.
Mr. Mader’s lawsuit filed today claims that the harassment by Officer Kuzma and Chief Alexander’s decision to ignore it was part of a broader attack against him by the city and that he has “suffered embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress and damage to his reputation.”
The heart of their argument is that Mr. Mader was fired in violation of both the U.S. and West Virginia constitutional protections of use of deadly force unless an officer fears his life is in danger — something that is also spelled out in the Weirton police manual.
By firing Mr. Mader, “the message [the city] is sending is: When in doubt, shoot to kill or lose your job,” said Tim O’Brien, a Pittsburgh attorney who is representing Mr. Mader along with attorneys from the ACLU of West Virginia.
That is a decision is a choice that “no police officer should have to make,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Messages left for Chief Alexander, Officer Kuzma, city manager Travis Blosser and city attorney Cy Hill were not returned today.
Mr. Mader is seeking at least $75,000 plus fees and compensatory and punitive damages, and to have his job termination overturned. But Mr. Mader does not know if he could go back to work in the area as a police officer if he won his case.
“I don’t know if anyone would hire me” given what Weirton officials have said. “But I don’t want to uproot my family from Weirton, either.”
Mr. Mader, like Officer Kuzma, grew up in Weirton. He returned home after serving in the Marines. He is married to his highschool sweetheart and they have two boys, ages 4 and 2.
After leaving the Marines, he initially worked as a diesel mechanic, a job he returned to after he was fired from the police force after working there nearly a year.
The last eight months since his story became public “has been difficult,” he said. “But not in a bad way.”
He said people from around the globe have sent him messages on Facebook telling him they support what he did.
And despite the stress on his family and himself, he would not change what he did in the early morning of May 6, 2016, when he encountered Mr. Williams.
“Without a doubt; I wouldn’t have handled it any other way,” he said. “I still stand by what I did.”