Southport police officer found not guilty of manslaughter

A Southport police sergeant was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter last week after a three-week trial stemming from the shooting death of a schizophrenic teen in 2014.

Brunswick County Superior Court Judge Richard Brown announced Friday that Bryon Vassey was not guilty in the killing of Keith Vidal, 18, in Boiling Spring Lakes. Brown, who alone decided the verdict after Vassey opted for a bench trial, delivered his ruling with the caveat that he had to keep his emotions separate from the law.

“This has been an extremely tragic and emotional case,” Brown said. “A lot of the evidence in this case is still as vivid in my mind as when I first heard it.”

According to jury instructions that attorneys spent a day haggling over, Vassey could not be found guilty if Brown determined that Vassey reacted reasonably in his belief that Vidal, in the throes of a psychotic episode, was going to kill another officer with a small screwdriver or pick he wielded.

Vidal, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2013, was delusional and hallucinating on Jan. 5, 2014, when his mother, Mary Wilsey, asked her husband, Mark Wilsey, to call 911. Mary Wilsey testified they called 911 because she found in the past that if paramedics took Vidal to the hospital she’d have a better chance of getting him committed.

Vassey was the third officer to arrive and shot Vidal as he wrestled on the floor with another officer. He has been on unpaid suspension since a grand jury indicted him.

The Wilsey family said it is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against Vassey.