WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Defense Attorney James Payne spoke out Wednesday on behalf of his client, Southport Detective Bryon Vassey, who was indicted this week on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Boiling Spring Lakes teen Keith Vidal.
The press conference was held to help paint the picture of the events that occurred January 5 when Vidal was shot and killed during a struggle with three officers. Payne defended Vassey, saying he, "exercised the only morally legally justified duty in protecting the life of a fellow officer. That sadly resulted in the loss of life of Keith Vidal."
Payne spoke about the testimony given to a grand jury Monday on this case.
Payne said Vassey was an honorable officer of the law. He also shared about Vassey's family life, which included revealing the detail that Vassey's own mother-in-law is diagnosed with schizophrenia, giving him 17 years personal experience with the mental disorder. Vidal was apparently suffering from a schizophrenic episode when his family called for police help in early January.
Payne said that Vassey was responding to Boiling Spring Lakes Officer John Thomas' request for help at the Vidal home for an "emergency" situation.
Payne explainedVassey, "did not come into this scene, and say, ‘I don't have time for this, tase him.' He didn't say that."
During court testimony Monday, District Attorney Jon David made note of that alleged quote from Vassey on the scene when describing the evidence.
Payne said a body microphone worn by another officer that responded to the scene, Officer Thomas, recorded the father of Keith saying, "You're not doing right, your mother is scared to death. You're not doing what the officers told you to do."
Vidal was described as charging the officers using a pick, a three inch sharp object with a three inch handle. Officers asked Keith to drop the object, he refused, so they tased him.
A scuffle ensued where Keith held the pick to Officer Thomas's head, then again in Thomas's torso. Payne says at that time was when Vassey fired a "bad shot" that reportedly struck Keith below his armpit and pierced both lungs.
After the fatal shot was fired the same microphone recorded Vassey telling Officer Thomas, "I had no choice," referring to firing his weapon, according to Payne. Officer Thomas is reportedly heard saying, "I know... I know," Payne said.
Payne noted that Vidal was surprisingly strong even after being tased and for only being 98 pounds.
Before fielding questions from the media Payne said, "Detective Vassey acted honorably, and did everything that he was supposed to do, and that he will receive the most vigorous defense the Constitution entitles him to."
Vassey is slated to be Superior Court April 8.
Chief Dove will review the SBI report before making a decision about Vassey's future employment with the department. It is unclear when that decision will be made.
Q: Are you certain that Officer Thomas will corroborate that his life was being threatened by the pick?
A: "What I can say, and what I told Judge Hooks is this, Officer Thomas felt his chest being tapped or thumped with the hand holding the pick prior to the shot being fired. There are certain other matters that are not a matter of record, that would not be proper for me to comment on, but that is about as far as I can go."
Q: Was Officer Thomas (the officer being attacked by the pick) wearing a bullet proof vest?
A: "He was wearing a vest of some nature. Whether it was bullet proof or protective, it was a vest of some nature."
Q: [District Attorney] Jon David said, that Vassey said, "I don't have time for this," but you're saying today that Vassey did not say that. Who are we supposed to believe?
A: "I understand what the contention is under which that statement was supposed to have been made. Let me put it this way to you, as I told Judge Hooks, that statement was supposed to have been made as Detective Vassey approached the two officers there confronting Mr. Vidal. That statement is not on the body mic." (Referring to the microphone worn by Officer Thomas)
Q: Did Detective Vassey have a taser?
A: "No. As a detective wearing civilian clothes, he is not required to wear anything other than his service weapon."
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