BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Former Southport police sergeant Bryon Vassey was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Judge Richard Brown announced his verdict Friday morning.
"This has been an extremely tragic and emotional case," Judge Brown said before announcing the verdict.
Vassey had been charged in the shooting death of 18-year-old Keith Vidal on Jan. 5, 2014.
Vassey held a press conference Friday where he said, "I'm thankful for God, my family, and I'm thankful for the justice system," and nothing else.
John Midgette, Executive Director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, spoke first during the news conference and said, "Vassey should never have been charged."
"We understand Vidal's death was devastating to his family, but a guilty verdict would have been another devastating event," Midgette added.
"We're supposed to stand beside folks like Vassey and defend them against the power of the government," lead councilman James Payne said.
Payne went on to support Brown's decision saying the judge based his verdict "upon the facts and the law, not upon emotion, which is what justice requires."
According to Payne, Vassey is still suspended from the police department at this time.
"[Vassey] is a human being," Midgette said. "He was in a situation where he had to take action that none of us would ever want to."
Mark Wilsey, Vidal's step father, spoke out following the verdict.
"The bad part about this is my son's in a box, but a murderer is getting away with murder [Friday]," Wilsey said. "I don't want to see somebody else's son or daughter die because some cop had a bad day and decided he didn't have time for this."
The defense argued that officer John Thomas was unable to defend himself while in a tussle with Vidal, and that is what warranted Vassey stepping in with deadly force.
Vidal, who struggled with schizophrenia, had a screwdriver in his hand when he was shot by Vassey.