Family Calls N.C. Police To Home During Son’s Schizophrenic Episode . . . Police Repeatedly Taser The Boy, Pin Him On Ground, and Then Shoot Him

vidal8n-1-webThere is a troubling case out of Boiling Spring Lake, North Carolina, where a family says that police were called to assist them with their son, Keith Vidal, 18, who was having a schizophrenic episode. After tasering and holding down the boy, an officer shot and killed him. The family says that the police pointed out that he had a screwdriver but they say that the screwdriver was tiny and could not have hurt anyone and that Vidal, who was being held down by multiple officers, was only 90 pounds.

The lawyer for one officer insisted that the media has gotten the story wrong but, after calling the media to his office, declined to give specifics. There is overlap in the public accounts however. Detective Bryon Vassey has been placed on leave in connection to his involvement in the shooting that occurred after police arrived at the house at 12:34 p.m. The original officer was joined by two other officers after the first unit reported a confrontation in the hallway. Radio calls said that the matter was under control but then just 70 seconds later, Unit 104 radioed out that he had to fire shots at the subject in order to defend himself.

article-0-1A7A2DFC00000578-259_634x753The family says that Vidal was tasered repeatedly and pinned on the ground. They insist that an officer said, “we don’t have time for this” and shot the boy between the officers holding him down. Vidal was a high school student who had no history of harming or threatening others.

Indeed, according to stories, the family says that the father was prevented from disarming the boy. Their account states that, when the first officer entered the home, Vidal was abrasive and grabbed a small electronics screwdriver. However, two officers began to negotiate with him and calm him down. But the family says that another officer from a neighboring jurisdiction entered and “instructed the officers to stop talking and Tase Vidal.” When Vidal turned to leave, the officers tasered him and he collapsed backwards as the officers jumped on top of him. They then say that “Vidal’s father tried to step in and grab the screw driver” but the Southport police officer who had instructed the other officers to use their Tasers is quoted as saying “we don’t have time for this” and shot Vidal in the chest.

The case raises obvious questions of the necessity of excessive force, a question that we have seen in other cases of elderly or disoriented individuals (here and here and here and here and here). The concern is often magnified in comparison to other countries with much lower rates of police shootings. It is important to get the officers’ account on these cases but thus far the department is releasing little new information. Officers often have to act with only seconds to consider their options. However, this is a case of a small kid who has been repeatedly tasered and was actually being restrained by at least two officers. Indeed, when I first read the coverage (and given the alleged comment of the officer just before the shooting), I thought we had another case of an officer confusing his gun with his taser. Yet, the family insists that the officer said that he had to protect his fellow officers with the use of lethal force.

These cases often end up in litigation, particularly when the family is unable to get a full account from the officers. Under Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), lethal force is permissible when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others. Obviously, an officer can use lethal force to protect himself or his partners or others from serious harm or death. Yet, an electronic screwdriver held by a 90 pound boy in this circumstance does raise serious questions of excessive force in my view.


Source: NBC

Kudos: Steve Katinsky

51 thoughts on “Family Calls N.C. Police To Home During Son’s Schizophrenic Episode . . . Police Repeatedly Taser The Boy, Pin Him On Ground, and Then Shoot Him”

  1. Randyjet:

    It is not as formal as you have with the CRM program but is there in a sense. It depends on the agency and the setting. Many agencies are located in areas where an officer or deputies are the only ones who handle the calls. Others, mostly in cities, have situations where multiple officers arrive. Usually, where I have been involved, the first officer on the scene having jurisdiction is the one responsible for the incident. It can be handed off based on circumstances such as another officer having better expertise (like a fatal traffic collision) or if a supervisor is on-scene.

    Generally it is the case where at some point the officers confer with each other on how to proceed and the responsible officer listens and unless it is a totally unreasonable direction the lead officer is going, the lead officer then directs the others what to do next. Sometimes this communication is non-verbal in the form of gestures and expressions but it is understood what will happen.

    This is why in the incident I mentioned in my view the new officer was out of line in what he did. He broke protocol and did not have all the facts.

    One other issue in our state at least when an officer arrests someone it is almost always the case, unless some error happened such as mistaken identity or whatever, that an arrest is not easily undone without conferring with the prosecutor’s office. Technically unless the arresting officer agrees to release someone from arrest, nobody but the prosecutor or a judge can drop the case. But even so there are issues with making an arrest and undoing it unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Some arrests are mandatory such as arrest warrants if booking space is available and DV incidents.

    It is also the case where generally in police “culture” if another officer makes the arrest it is his responsibility after that.

    So I guess it in a sense is similar to what you were writing about CRM but it really is a matter of training and using one’s brain so that foolishness doesn’t happen.

    1. Thank you Darren. From your response it seems that while most police officers use common sense, there are the proverbial bad apples. The same was true in aviation especially at United which is why they pioneered CRM. Most of the pilots and captains were quite good, but there was one captain known as Capt. Abort because he kept his F/O out of the loop and was forever trying to take off without the flaps in the proper position for takeoff. So he had to abort a lot. Then there was the PDX crash which fortunately did not kill anybody, but destroyed the plane when the captain ignored the flight engineers warning that they were running out of fuel. That is why checklists, sterile cockpit rules, and CRM are mandatory and are spelled out in detail.

      I think that such provisions would need to start being spelled out so that common sense will be mandatory for ALL officers from day one of training. While I do not know police work except from the outside, I think that given the jobs the police do and the life and death power and situations that they have, it would be to the benefit of all of us to have some kind of program that will help make good common sense more common among the people who are armed and authorized to use deadly force. Again, I don’t know if there are any such training programs in use now, but I have read of some cities where they make an effort to reduce police use of deadly force, and it has produced good results. If this can be done on a limited basis, I think that human engineering studies can and need to be done for police work in situations like the one you described.

  2. Another example of what happens when you call the cops. No new here, unfortunately.

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