The mother of an 18-year-old man shot and killed by a police officer took the stand Monday and apologized to the judge for becoming emotional.
It isn’t every day, Mary Wilsey told Judge Richard Brown, a mother watches her child die.
Wilsey was the sole witness Monday as week two of former Southport Police Officer Bryon Vassey’s trial on voluntary manslaughter charge began.
Vassey is accused of shooting and killing Vidal at his Boiling Spring Lakes home on Jan. 5, 2014. Vidal lived at the home with his mother, stepfather and siblings.
Wilsey described what started out as a normal morning on Jan. 5. 2014. She was having tea, while Vidal was eating cereal at the coffee table. But Wilsey said she noticed a change that morning after she and her husband returned home after about an hour at Wal-Mart.
“I went in front of Keith and…I asked him what he was doing. He said, ‘Hi John. Hey, John, do you want to fight?’ And I said, Keith it’s mom. Who’s John? And he didn’t respond. I asked is John here and he said no,” Wilsey said.
At that point she sat on the couch to talk to him and asked him if he wanted a sandwich. When she started cooking, Keith pulled out his screwdriver from the kitchen’s junk drawer, Wilsey said.
“I asked him what he was doing with it, and he said it was his screwdriver,” Wilsey said. “He was not giving up the screwdriver. When Keith got fixated on something like this screwdriver or a piece of Styrofoam…if he decided that was his for the day that was his, and nobody was to have it.”
Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger asked if the fixation on the screwdriver concerned her.
Wilsey replied it did, because her son thought she was someone else and she was concerned he might hurt himself. “I asked Mark, my husband, to call 911 because Keith was having a bad day,” Wilsey testified. “I felt Keith needed to be seen by a mental health professional at that time.”
Wilsey testified that the first officer, John Thomas from the Boiling Spring Lakes department, had arrived and begun to speak with Vidal in the hallway of their home with her husband. The conversation was “very quiet,” she said. About 10 minutes later, she testified, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Deputy Samantha Lewis-Chavis arrived spoke to her son, as well.
When Vassey, the third officer to arrive at the scene, entered the home, Wilsey said she was standing in her living room looking out the front door. Vassey was wearing street clothes and didn’t address her when he walked in, Wilsey testified.
Wilsey said she heard Vassey say something to the effect of, “I don’t have time for this [expletive]! Tase him or take him down now.” At that moment, Wilsey testified, the situation with her son and the officers went “out of control.”
Wilsey recalled someone’s yell, then seeing the sheriff”s deputy pull out her Taser – a device she’d never seen used on someone. She saw Officer Thomas and her son fall to the ground, and within seconds all three officers, plus Wilsey and her husband, were in the hallway around Vidal. Thomas was on top of Vidal and her husband was at the teen’s feet, reaching for his hand to get the screwdriver.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, Wilsey said she spotted something and heard a gun go off.
Vassey was holding the gun, she testified.
“There was chaos as soon as that gun went off. I started screaming…I know I was cursing. I don’t remember what curse words I used,” Wilsey said. “I watched Keith. I watched Keith’s body jerk up, his eyes roll in the back of his head, and he just didn’t move again.”
Wilsey said she looked at Vassey standing against the wall and described him as “very white.” Vassey screamed he had to shoot to protect his officer and himself, Wilsey said. Then, Vassey started walking toward the living room.
“Did you see what happened to the screwdriver before you ran after Mr. Vassey?” Bollinger asked. “My husband took the screwdriver…and threw it on our kitchen counter,” Wilsey replied.
Vassey’s defense attorneys Michael McGuinness and James Payne maintain the weapon Vidal carried that day was a pick.
In his cross examination, McGuinness asked Wilsey whether her testimony was biased.
“I consider myself to be a fair witness,” Wilsey said.
“So as you testify in this case, you say you don’t have any ill will or bias against Sgt. Vassey, correct?” McGuinness asked.
“I feel that if somebody kills another person, somebody should be held responsible…If Mr. Vassey committed a crime by murdering my son, he should be held accountable,” Wilsey said.
McGuinness asked, “Even if they’re acting in direct defense of the life of a law enforcement officer?” Wilsey replied, “I don’t believe that was the case here, sir.”
McGuinnis also spent time questioning Wilsey about her son’s medical history and her search for a diagnosis. Wilsey said her son had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his sister died when he was 10.
Vidal’s issues started to arise again in mid-2012, when Wilsey said she had to take her son to the hospital because he wanted to hurt himself. Doctors at first diagnosed Vidal with manic depression, but Wilsey testified she didn’t agree with that diagnosis and sought other medical opinions. Wilsey was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and received treatment he needed to get better from several facilities.
McGuinness questioned medical records from an involuntary commitment that indicated Vidal had both suicidal and homicidal behaviors. Wilsey testified she didn’t know what Vidal told the doctors to make that assumption in his record.
While her son had expressed a wish to die, he’d never wanted to hurt someone else, she said.
The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday with more of Wilsey’s testimony.