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An attorney for Bryon Vassey, a police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of a mentally ill teen, said it was not the teen’s mother who threatened the officer’s wife.
James Payne filed a motion for production of records April 25 in Brunswick County Superior Court, seeking courthouse surveillance video of an alleged interaction between Mary Wilsey—mother of 18-year-old Keith Vidal who was fatally shot in his Boiling Spring Lakes home Jan. 5—and Victoria Vassey, wife of Bryon Vassey.
On Thursday, Payne said it was not Wilsey who threatened Victoria Vassey.
“We are pleased to confirm that it was not Mrs. Wilsey who issued this threat; nor was she the person captured on the courthouse video,” Payne said.
According to the motion, Wilsey allegedly threatened Victoria Vassey by telling her, “I’m going to burn your [expletive] house down with every [expletive] body in it.”
Jason Disbrow, an attorney for Vidal’s family, denied the allegations following Payne’s motion.
“The family of Keith Vidal wants justice for Keith and is not going to have this case tried in the media,” Disbrow said. “That being said, Mrs. Wilsey at no time threatened Mrs. Vassey or anyone in Bryon Vassey’s family.”
A Brunswick County grand jury indicted Vassey, a nine-year veteran of the Southport Police Department, on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in connection with the fatal shooting of Vidal, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, on Feb. 3.
During a bond hearing immediately following the indictment, District Attorney Jon David and Payne argued two different sets of circumstances leading to Vidal’s death.
David described 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 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.
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 screwdriver.
“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. 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 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.”
Thompson and Lewis have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident. Both have returned to full duty.
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Caroline Curran is the managing editor of Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @Cgcurran