Trial to begin for officer charged in shooting death of mentally ill teen

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Bryon Vance Vassey
Bryon Vance Vassey

A bench trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday morning for a Southport police officer charged in the on-duty fatal shooting of a mentally ill teen in January 2014.

The state’s case against Officer Bryon Vassey, a nine-year veteran with the Southport Police Department, will be heard in Brunswick County Superior Court Judge Richard T. Brown’s courtroom. Vassey, a nine-year veteran with the Southport Police Department, has been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Keith Vidal on Jan. 5, 2014.

Vidal, a mentally ill teenager who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was shot at his family’s home on Presidents Drive in Boiling Spring Lakes. Mark and Mary Wilsey—Vidal’s stepfather and mother—called 911 in the early afternoon that day because they were concerned for the teen’s safety, according to District Attorney Jon David. Vassey was reportedly the last of three officers who responded to the Vidal family home that afternoon before shots were fired.

Vassey was indicted on the voluntary manslaughter charge in February 2014, when David brought the case before a grand jury. The grand jurors decided on the charge after David presented evidence to consider multiple outcomes: second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or not to charge him at all.

During a bond hearing after Vassey’s indictment, David’s account of the Jan. 5 shooting varied greatly from the one offered by defense attorney James Payne. David described the 18-year-old 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 is that Vassey did shoot and kill Vidal, who was reportedly armed with a screwdriver, but Payne contests that the weapon the teen had during the incident was a pick.

Vassey was the last of three officers to arrive at the scene, David said. The other officers present, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Deputy Samantha Lewis and Boiling Spring Lakes Police Officer John Thompson, have since been cleared by their respective agencies in the incident.

Vassey’s trial was originally scheduled to take place in February. But on Feb. 8, Judge Brown granted a defense motion to continue the trial until the spring. Later that month, Judge Brown ruled in favor of a defense motion to waive a jury trial in Vassey’s case.

Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger is prosecuting the case for the state. Vassey is represented by Payne, as well as attorneys Megan Milliken and Michael McGuinness.

Port City Daily reporter Christina Haley will be in Brunswick County for the trial this week. Check back later for details from the courtroom.

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