SBI probes officer’s fatal shooting of schizophrenic teen

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By Sam Hickman

An investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation is expected to determine whether a Southport police officer was justified in shooting a schizophrenic 18-year-old inside his Boiling Spring Lakes home Sunday afternoon, Jan. 5.

The family of Keith Vidal believes the officer, Bryon Vassey, should face criminal charges for his death.

Mark Wilsey Sr. said the family called Boiling Spring Lakes police for help because they wanted to admit Vidal to a mental health hospital. He said those law enforcement officers were familiar with their son and his condition.

Mary Vidal said her family called 911 because her son had a small screwdriver in his hand, which they wanted him to put down.

“He does have schizophrenia and we didn’t want him to hurt himself,” she said. “At that point, we called 911 and asked for assistance to help us get him to the emergency room so that he could get proper treatment without hurting himself.”

Wilsey said the officers were called to help calm his son as an ambulance awaited to take him to an area hospital.

During the 911 call, Mark Wilsey told the dispatcher his son wasn’t doing well.

“Could you send an officer over here?” Wilsey is heard asking. “We have a son who has schizophrenia and he’s not doing so good. We have to get him some place.”

In the recording, Wilsey said Keith Vidal “is trying to fight his mother” and “she’s scared to death of him.”

“He just turned 18. We’ve had to put him in before,” Wilsey is heard saying. “But he’s getting real bad again. I’m going back in right now.”

Wilsey told the dispatcher it was not a suicide attempt by his son, who was completely alert but “just not right.”

Boiling Spring Lakes Police Chief Brad Shirley said Officer John Thomas responded to the President Drive home Sunday. Reports show Thomas, who had responded to the home many times before and was familiar with the family, arrived at 12:34 p.m.

A three-person Brunswick County EMS team showed up at the scene three minutes later.

Deputy Samantha M. Lewis also responded at 12:45 p.m., Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Emily Flax said.

Vassey, a nine-year veteran of the force and former Sunset Beach police officer, was the third officer at the home, Southport Police Chief Jerry Dove said. Vassey arrived at 12:47 p.m.

Less than two minutes later, after Thomas and Lewis stunned Vidal with a Taser, the shot was reported fired.

Wilsey was standing between Vassey and his stepson, who was lying on his back with Thomas and Lewis on either side of him, when the shot was fired.

Wilsey said he couldn’t believe he saw his stepson shot dead.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think guns would be drawn. This has happened with Keith before and the situation was handled because officers talked him through it. There was no reason for guns,” he said. “We didn’t even think it was a big issue. We just called for help. This was a situation that wasn’t out of the ordinary for us.”

Wilsey said Vidal did not want to surrender the screwdriver only because it belonged to him.

“Keith never threatened anybody with the screwdriver,” he said. “When the Southport cop told (the other officers) to Tase him, (Keith) tried to run into the bathroom. That’s when the sheriff’s deputy and BSL officer Tased him, and then the Southport cop just shot him. He shot him in the side of the chest and the bullet when through his chest … right there in his own house in front of his parents. He was murdered.”

Wilsey said the officer who fired the shot wasn’t in the house more than 30 seconds.

“He walked in the front door and said, ‘We don’t have time for this. Tase the kid and get him out of here.’ After they Tased him, the officer shot Keith. He murdered him.”

Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David said it is standard protocol for the SBI to investigate all officer-involved shootings in North Carolina. Both he and Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger went to Vidal’s home Sunday afternoon after the shooting.

David said Monday he called for the SBI investigation “to ensure a neutral, independent review of the facts in this case.” He said he was encouraged that Shirley, Sheriff John Ingram and Dove agreed immediately to request the investigation.

At least six SBI agents were at Vidal’s home to begin the investigation Sunday afternoon, David said.

“I believe that putting in an outside review is vital to the administration of justice, and so as district attorney, I asked that that occur immediately,” he said during a news conference Monday afternoon. “As a team we are committed to getting in place an outside process that stood the best chance of assuring this community that we would have an independent review of the facts and circumstances that led to the death of an 18-year-old male in his home in the presence of his parents, and that we determine whether or not any crime was committed.”

Wilsey said Vassey was no more than five feet away from Vidal when he fired his weapon.

“There were two cops restraining Keith and I was right there to help,” Wilsey said. “There was no reason for him to shoot. He reached around me and shot in between the two officers.”

Wilsey said the explanation that was given to the family was that Vassey was trying to protect the other officers.

“Those cops weren’t in any danger,” Wilsey said. “How’s an 18-year-old who doesn’t weigh 100 pounds that’s already been Tased twice any danger to them? Keith was murdered in his own home with his parents watching.”

Mary Vidal, who along with about 20 other family members and friends spoke with the media before the Monday afternoon news conference, called her son’s death a “cold-blooded murder.” The family is still recovering from the death of her daughter, Brittany Vidal, 20, who died after a single-vehicle traffic collision July 16, 2007.

Vassey is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the SBI investigation, Dove said. He declined to say whether Vassey discharged his firearm during the incident.

Thomas remains on full duty, Shirley said. He did not elaborate.

Lewis, who did not fire her gun during the incident, also remains on full duty after the Office of Professional Standards found she did not deviate from policy, Flax said.

David said he could not speculate on when the SBI investigation will end.

“The wheels of justice sometimes grind slowly,” he said.

Vidal was a student at South Brunswick High School until last year, when the family decided to home-school him, Wilsey said.

“They murdered a mentally-ill kid. They killed the boy,” he said. “We call the police because they’re supposed to protect and serve, and they murdered our son.”


Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or shickman@brunswickbeacon.com.