Psychiatrist testifies mentally ill teen had “risk for violence” when he was shot by officer

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Bryon Vance Vassey
Bryon Vance Vassey

A psychiatrist testified 18-year-old Keith Vidal was experiencing “serious” symptoms of his schizoaffective disorder and had a “very high risk for violence” on Jan. 5, 2014, before he was fatally shot by a Southport police officer.

The second week of Bryon Vassey’s voluntary manslaughter bench trial concluded Friday with witness testimony from Moira Artigues, a general and forensic psychiatrist in private practice in Cary, North Carolina. Artigues testified to Vidal’s medical records for the defense and offered an expert opinion about his condition the day of his death.

Vassey, then a Southport officer and now on unpaid leave, is charged with shooting and killing Vidal a minute and 10 seconds after he arrived on scene. He was the last of three officers to arrive at the Vidal’s President Road home in Boiling Spring Lakes, after his stepfather had called police for help.

Artigues, who was paid for her testimony through the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, completed her medical report for the defense on Jan. 14, 2016. In that report, she concluded Vidal displayed “suicidal” and “homicidal” tendencies through assessing other doctors’ examinations. In her opinion, the situation on Jan. 5, 2014, was a product of Vidal’s deteriorating medical illness over two years’ time – a time when his mother was trying to get him the treatment he needed.

Vidal had displayed symptoms of his disorder on the day of his death, including a “bizarre delusion,” during which the teen asked his mother if she was a man named “John,” Artigues testified. It was that delusion and a fixation on a screwdriver that led police to be called to the home, she said.

“His family had called law enforcement because Keith had a weapon and wouldn’t relinquish it…clearly something was going on where he was a danger to himself and others,” Artigues said.

Before Vassey fatally shot the teen, Vidal struggled with Boiling Spring Lakes Office John Thomas over a screwdriver he carried in the hallway of his home. The defense maintains the weapon Vidal carried was a Kobalt pick.

“A standoff with law enforcement, with a weapon in his hand, was a very dangerous situation on this day,” Artigues said.

Upon cross examination of the witness, Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger asked if she could point to anywhere in her report where she showed Vidal vocalized to the officers a suicidal or homicidal threat. She said he didn’t verbalize that specifically, adding that it was “not a stretch” for her to conclude that it was a dangerous situation and possibly a “homicidal situation.”

But in the weeks leading up to his death, the Bollinger questioned the witness about medical records that showed there was no indication Vidal had suicidal thoughts or was a danger to anyone else. Artigues said she had not reviewed those records for her report and had not seen the records until Friday, but did not change her opinion about the potentially fatal situation at the home.

Artigues testified that before his death, Vidal wasn’t getting better despite frequent visits to the doctor and prescribed medications. Vidal had been prescribed several different medications over the years and had started not to take his medications in the early part of 2013, because of how they made him feel, she said.

When Bollinger questioned her about records in the days prior to Vidal’s death that had shown he was taking his medications, Artigues testified it was not unusual for a person with schizophrenia to be “in denial” of their medical condition and “mislead” doctors about taking medications. Artigues said, in her opinion, Vidal was still experiencing an episode on that day.

Bollinger then asked if Artigues reviewed any of Vassey’s medical records, including medications documented in reports from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, in which Vassey admitted he was taking certain medications, including pain medications for a recent an oral surgery at the time and anti-anxiety medicine. Artigues said she had not investigated Vassey’s records.

Vassey’s attorney, Michael McGuinness, then directed Artigues to look at a time two weeks before Vidal’s death, where records showed Vidal was getting “severely depressed” to where he wasn’t turning on the computer or TV, and had lost 13 pounds.

“It looks like he was struggling and mom was struggling as well…she needed help with him,” she said.

Testimony in the case will continue Monday with more defense witnesses.

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