Southport Police Officer Bryon Vassey’s exoneration in the shooting death of a mentally ill teen prompted a pair of press conferences Friday, opposite in every way.
The family of 18-year-old Keith Vidal, whom Vassey shot and killed at the teen’s Boiling Spring Lakes home on Jan. 5, 2014, criticized Judge Richard Brown’s verdict as the product of a “corrupt” judicial system.
Vassey, who has been on leave from the Southport Police Department since the shooting, spoke briefly but his attorneys – paid for by the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, a professional group for law enforcement personnel that provides legal support and services – talked at length about the judge’s decision being what “justice required.”
Mark Wilsey, Vidal’s stepfather, addressed the media shortly after the verdict was read Friday morning. Wilsey said he believes there was a conspiracy to recast the “weapon” Vidal held as a pick instead of a Phillips screwdriver, which is how all witnesses except Vassey described it. Vassey said he shot Vidal because, as the teen and another office scuffled after the teen was tased, he had a duty to protect the officer’s life.
“The dog and pony show is over,” Wilsey said. “This was all a joke and we all just wasted three weeks’ time.”
Wilsey said the “ice pick” was never in his house and the screwdriver that was in Vidal’s hand is missing from his home.
Vidal’s mother, Mary Wilsey, made a brief statement to reporters before going back into the offices of District Attorney Jon David. Assistant District Attorneys Lee Bollinger and Daniel Thurston represented the state in the case.
“This was not the verdict we had hoped for,” Mary Wilsey said.
She, like her husband, believe a jury would have come to a different conclusion. Vassey waived his right to a jury trial in favor of one decided by a judge.
Mary Wilsey called on law enforcement to learn from her son’s death, which happened after the family summoned police to help get Vidal to a hospital to stabilize his mental illness.
“We hope that Keith’s senseless death will highlight the need for crisis intervention training,” she said.
While his defense team questioned why he’d been charged and indicted in the first place, Vassey had a short statement at a press conference Friday afternoon.
“First of all, I’m thankful for God, I’m thankful for my family and I am thankful for the justice system,” Vassey said. He offered no further comment.
Vassey’s three attorneys – James Payne, Michael McGuinness and Megan Milliken – and John C. Midgette, executive director of the N.C. Police Benevolent Association, had more to say.
Midgette said every law enforcement officer has a “duty” to intervene in cases like stabbings, and that’s what Vassey did in this case.
“We agree with Judge Brown that this was a tragic case, and we understand that the death of Mr. Vidal has been devastating to his family,” Midgette said. “However, a guilty verdict against Sgt. Vassey would have been another tragedy.”
Payne, the case’s lead attorney, said Judge Brown did “what justice required.”
“Judge Brown…made his decision based upon the facts and the law, and not upon emotion,” Payne said.
Payne said the not guilty verdict was appropriate because Vassey was innocent from the start, having only done his duty as a law enforcement officer.
Milliken said that for the last two years Vassey has had some of the “worst words sprayed” to him as a result of the case.
“A child murderer. A killer. I think I read something after the verdict that we should all burn in hell,” Milliken said. “And I have to say…he rose above all of that and he maintained his dignity and the dignity of his family. He did his job that day and he lived by a code of honor not only as an officer, but as a man.”
The association is looking forward to Vassey being able to “restore his livelihood,” Midgette said.
A civil suit is still pending in the case.