February 07, 2014
BOLIVIA—Moments after a Brunswick County grand jury indicted Southport police officer Bryon Vassey on a voluntary manslaughter charge for last month’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill teenager, District Attorney Jon David and Vassey’s attorney offered vastly different accounts of the shooting.
During a bond hearing before Superior Court Judge Jack Hooks, David’s account of the Jan. 5 shooting varied greatly from the one offered by defense attorney James Payne.
David described 18-year-old Keith Vidal as a young man in crisis whose parents were seeking help so he wouldn’t harm himself. Payne said Vidal was stabbing a police officer when Vassey fired his weapon.
A fact not disputed by either side—Vassey did, in fact, shoot and kill Vidal, who suffered from schizophrenia, at his Boiling Spring Lakes home.
“It was a bad shoot,” David said of the single shot Vassey fired that struck Vidal under his right armpit—piercing both lungs and killing him moments later.
The incident began at about 12:30 p.m. Jan. 5 when Mark and Mary Wilsey—Vidal’s stepfather and mother—called 911 because they were concerned for Vidal’s safety, which had become a regular occurrence for the Wilseys, David said.
Often referring to Vidal as “an 18-year-old kid,” David said Vidal was “physically small, no more than 90 pounds.”
When Boiling Spring Lakes police officer John Thompson arrived at the home, Vidal had a broom in his hand and appeared to be sweeping, David said. Vidal also had a “menacing-looking screwdriver,” the threat of which has been argued over in court and in the media.
“Keith said he wouldn’t put it down,” David said.
Thompson then called for backup and Brunswick County sheriff’s deputy Samantha Lewis arrived at the home. Three EMS units also arrived at the home before Vassey arrived at 12:48 p.m.
“And things went very poorly from there,” David said. “He arrived 1 minute and 53 seconds before shots are fired.”
Vassey appeared to be in a bad mood, reportedly heard saying, “I’m here to kick ass and take names,” David said.
“Upon getting inside he said, ‘I don’t have time for this,’ and ‘let’s tase him,” David said. “And in a predictable reaction from someone with schizophrenia, Vidal doubled-back down the hallway and back toward the officers.
“Samantha Lewis lit him up with her Taser and he seized up and fell to the floor in the fetal position,” David said.
Thompson attempted to control the situation but ended up struggling with Vidal.
“Officer Vassey took his gun and shot into a pile of people on the ground,” David said.
Vidal died on the way to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington.
Vassey initially said he fired in self-defense but later said he fired in defense of another officer, David said.
Payne, however, offered a much different account, requesting Vassey be given an unsecured bond due to his law enforcement service and commitment to his community. A nine-year veteran of the Southport Police Department, Vassey previously served on the Sunset Beach Police Department and has received commendations for his service, Payne said.
“That means something. He’s worthy of the court’s trust,” Payne said.
Payne also questioned the evidence and testimony presented to the grand jury—proceedings for which are not open to the public—and if a recording of a body microphone worn by Thompson was presented to grand jurors.
“I wonder if they heard the body mic that is the victim’s own father saying, ‘Keith, you’re not doing right; you got your mama scared to death,’” Payne said. “I wonder if the grand jury even heard Samantha Lewis say the pick with the spike end of it was pointed at the head of John Thompson.”
Payne said Thompson described Vidal—who he had seen in distress on previous occasions—as having “a look in his eye on this date that he had not seen before. He had the look of evil in him.”
“Let’s not pussyfoot around anymore,” Payne said. “It wasn’t a screwdriver, judge, it was a pick.
“Keith Vidal flees the hallway and charges at both officers. Samantha Lewis tases him. He goes down. And John Thompson, who’s a big fellow, grapples with Keith Vidal. He was surprised by how strong Keith was…the strength was about to overwhelm him.”
Lewis attempted to tase Vidal a second time, Payne said, but her Taser malfunctioned as Vidal had the spike of the pick pointed at Thompson.
“He stabbed Thompson two or three times,” Payne said. “He has a duty to defend the officer. He did what he had to do. He did his duty. Regrettably, he had no other choice.”
Hooks set Vassey’s bond at $50,000 secured, and ordered Vassey to turn himself in by noon Wednesday.
Vassey turned himself in Tuesday night and was released on bond.