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. Futile is the word for letting legal professionals get wealthy over this and muddy the waters with their absurd B.S.. Legal and logical have only one thing in common, they both start with the letter “L”.
    What I read above is soooo pathetic and absurdly ineffective.

  2. RWL

    Unfortunately I never heard anything concrete on what happened to him, but one of the officers there told me later nobody got a subpoena to go to court so it might have been dropped by the prosecutor. Don’t know for sure.

  3. Darren,

    Wow! What happened to ‘Joe’? How long did ‘Joe’ stay in jail? What happened next?

  4. Actually, I had a similar, though fortunately less tragic, situation when I worked for the sheriff’s office. There was a man in his mid 20s, Joe (not his real name) who had some mental health issues and his mom would call every once in a while because of Joe’s odd behavior. I had dealt with Joe on several occasions and the typical incident with him was he stopped taking his meds and had hallucinations that either confused or worried him and he would start acting out, his mother unable to calm him down. One time he told me he was convinced there was a dead body under the house and it was threatening him. So I went to a crawl space under the house where he began digging. I dug down there about a foot and a half more until the dirt was hard packed and showed him the dirt below where he dug had not been disturbed so no body was buried there. He also usually needed to be told about twenty times of something before he was reassured.

    Joe lived in one of the cities and was in the city limits. I heard over the city’s channel Joe was acting up again and his mom was needing some assistance. I was just a few miles out of town so I thought I would see what was going on.

    Essentially Joe was hallucinating again and this time he began smashing a mirror in the hallway because he saw people coming out of the mirror into his house and he began fighting them. He said the mirror was broken to prevent more people from getting inside. Two city officers and I arrived at the same time. One officer talked with the mother and the other and I talked with Joe. Joe kind of gravitated toward me because he trusted me from our previous contacts. Joe again needed to be told twenty times the “people” were not going to harm him.

    After the two city guys and I talked among each other about what to do. One of the officers thought it might be a mandatory arrest because of the domestic violence law. I said I didn’t feel it applied because Joe, due to his handicap, truly believed his home was being burglarized by people who were attacking him and he broke the mirror to protect himself. From his point of view he was acting reasonably and not to maliciously damage him mom’s mirror. I didn’t feel he had had the mental state to be culpable of a crime in this case. Plus, WA law allows LEOs to take a person suffering a mental illness who committed minor, non violent offenses to a hospital or treatment facility in lieu of arrest. I said I will talk Joe into going with me to the hospital; and his mother agreed.

    While one of the city officers and I were talking to Joe, and Joe was now assured and convinced it was best for me to take him to the ER. This was right at the city’s shift change and one of the officers from the next shift arrived. When I was still talking with Joe, the new officer began complaining to the other officers they were taking too much time and he “didn’t want to be sued for not arresting Joe” (again the mandatory DV arrest) and before I knew what happened the new officer handcuffed Joe and marched him into his car telling him he was going to jail for domestic violence. The new officer griped for a while about us “not doing anything” and drove off with Joe. Let’s just say I was at bit vocal in my disagreement with him.

    So Joe got taken to jail, the worst place for him given his condition, because some officer got impatient and butted in where he had no business. This is the same situation and attitude the shooter in this article had. The “I know better than you rookies” and “I ain’t got no time for this so I am taking charge myself” type of attitudes get a lot of people in trouble.

    1. Darren, I was wondering if what we have in aviation would be of use in police work. It is called CRM, cockpit resource management which does away with the old military style functioning where the captain was the sole absolute law and what he wanted was the law. This old style managed to kill a lot of crews and passengers, and I won’t go into all the gory incidents which taught us better. CRM teaches crews that ALL crew members should be involved in decision making on emergencies and some abnormal situations. The captain is of course the final authority and has the final word, but the other crew members have to be included in discussions and decisions. If the captain does not do that, he/she will be having a long early morning chat with the chief pilot. We also have tapes to verify what went on, so the idea of lying won’t fly either.

      I was wondering if you could figure out something similar to this that could be used in police work and mandated so that you don’t have to allow fools to do bad police work. I know that Flying has a doctor who is a pilot, and he is working on the idea of getting checklists into the operating room much as we use them in flying. That SOP has cut down on aircraft accidents by huge amounts and is standard for all aviation. Though we still have landings with the landing gear locked up and the head firmly planted in an improbable place. The captain still has the ability to take complete control if the situation warrants it and will admit of no delay or discussion.

  5. Randy,
    Darren is right. Of course, local criminal law varies somewhat from state to state. It is late and I have not taken the time to research NC laws on homicide, but it sounds more like second degree murder. Voluntary manslaughter at the very minimum. The level of premeditation required to make murder one stick is going to be very hard to prove. While a good lawyer may be able to get him off on a manslaughter charge, I suspect he is looking at some serious time. There is one caveat. How seriously is the DA going to press charges?

    There is a chance the Feds may get involved on the deprivation of civil rights if they suspect the DA is throwing the case. Recall what happened to the police officers in the Rodney King beating after a friendly prosecutor and a friendly jury acquitted them.

  6. Absolutely no substitute for training & experience. I called the police , EMS & a PES officer to take away a similar 24 y.o. once, i knew him to carry a pair of cuticle scissors, he was Zombied out, UN-predictable to say the lest, the PES officer had less than 6 months on duty, completely unnerved, the 6+ cops were relying on “respect my authority” (cartman style) finally a grizzled old firefighter got there, thru a heavy blanket over him & they wrestled him n2 a straight jacket.

  7. If the facts are as stated above the officer that fired the shot could be charged with second degree murder. This is not a case of an accidental shooting. The officer clearly shows intent to injure in a manner he knew completely was certainly likely to cause death (because shooting in the chest is standard training for a first shot). His blurting out that he did not have time for this sealed his fate.

    There was no reason for the shooter to come along and step in when the two other officers were talking with the victim. That is bad on many levels in police procedure and culture, especially from another agency.

    This was murder in my view.

  8. “Police power” is theoretically the civil defense authority of the people. We retain the authority to police our private properties even though we sometimes seek assistance from the police. When we seek assistance we do not implicitly forfeit our own authority.

    Imagine that the parents had called two strong neighbors to restrain their son and take away the screwdriver. If while they were holding him on the floor a third neighbor was called to also assist and upon arrival said exactly what the third officer said, and then shot and killed the boy, should the parents who had sought this help be held accountable if they in turn shot and killed the third neighbor? Why do the uniforms and badges make any difference in the mind of thinking people? Have police been delegated some greater authority than that that is available and resident in the parents (or society as a whole)?

    We know by their actions they think they have such greater authority, so from whence did it arise? I think they pull it out their arse cuz we are stupid enough to allow them.

    Now imagine what would have happened if the father had shot this third officer????? He would likely be dead now. Except for this likely tragedy it’s a shame he didn’t. And if he were to live, most Americans are sadly so brainwashed they would find him guilty of killing a cop and subject him to some heinous punishment.

    When will we ever wake up to the fact that no costumed and badged group of people should hold a monopoly over the initiation of violence?

  9. Sick to my stomach! I live in a small town (nazi-force of 12) who’s on duty “officers” hang out at Starbuck’s all day long. NO patrols, NO public interaction unless dispatched away from their playtime to an incident. They’re off in their secluded corner and the fact it’s them against us is obvious. This “force” has also murdered a mentally ill man who was subdued on the ground… justified. Nearly every badge and squad-car in the nation used to say “Protect and Serve” as part of the logo, that’s long been abandoned around here… is it on any cop cars now? I don’t believe they still operate under that oath and there is NOTHING we can do.

    1. We are under the misinformed impression that “Protect and serve” is followed by ” the public”. In reality it is “the law”.

  10. Nice spin attempt. They didn’t “shoot him”. They murdered him in cold blood.

  11. This has already been covered in song;

    Heedless of the crying children
    Cragging fathers from their beds
    Beating sons while helpless mothers
    Watched the blood poor from their heads

    Not for them a judge and jury
    Nor indeed a trial at all
    But being Irish means you´re guilty
    So we´re guilty one and all…

    Come tell us how you slew
    Those brave Arabs two by two
    Like the Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows,
    How you bravely slew each one
    With your sixteen pounder gun
    And you frightened them poor natives to their marrow.

  12. randy, My sister lived in Houston back in the 80’s and so I followed news there. Back then, there were a lotta cowboys. It’s good to hear there’s been improvement. Generally, w/ screening processes in most place, that is the case. But, they are pulling their recruits from the human race, so it’s always going to be a crap shoot to some degree.

    I have had more contact w/ more cops than the vast majority of people. I think your 75%/25% is pretty accurate. I might put it @ 80/20, but it varies so widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

  13. Tragic. My heart goes out to the parents.

    I’ve read of enough cases like this one that I would never call the police to help with a domestic problem. Our nation seems to be heading back toward barbarism rather than perfecting civilized society.

  14. This shooter should be in jail pending a trial. Excessive force is putting it nicely, if the facts noted above prove to be true.

  15. I always try to think the best of our law enforcement officers. Most of them do a beautiful job of their thankless task and do their best to truly help those they are working with each day. In this case, I see no redeeming feature to any of this on the part of the officer who shot him. I rather think that the other officers are deeply troubled by what happened as well This is a nightmare for everyone involved, but I hope that ultimately, the officer who shot him gets the biggest nightmares as I think he deserves every bit of grief that this (should, if the world isn’t totally insane) will give him.

    Sometimes with a disturbed person, the best thing to do is to leave them alone until the emotions have subsided-then get medical care. The cops are not trained to deal with mental illness.

  16. Randy, In those scenarios you have a quasi premeditation, based on being a member of a hate group, that certainly helped w/ proving that element. Hate crimes[which I loathe] also assume a level of premeditation. I’m merely trying to focus your passion. Based on what I’ve read, I think a manslaughter could be proved. Understand, convicting cops is tough. If the jury pool was this blog, not so tough. But, out there in the world, it is. Almost certainly his brothers in blue will back him up on this. If this is true, like yourself, I want a felony conviction. I’m just being pragmatic. I was trained to not let my emotions influence my investigations. REAL tough @ times. A good DA doesn’t allow emotion, passion, POLITICS, influence their charging a crime. The Duke Lacrosse and Zimmerman cases are just 2 of many examples where that occurred.

    1. nick As I said, intent is part of the charge of first degree murder, and absent other facts and history, which may still be available, as you noted it is VERY hard to prove. If I were on the jury, it would not take much for me to find intent, but others will be different I guess. The cases you cited involved prosecutorial misconduct, not overcharging. The Zimmerman case was not overcharged in my opinion since lesser charges were also available to the jury, and they still let Zimmerman off because of poor effort on the side of the prosecutors.

      To my fellow Houstonian, I have had mostly good encounters with the police, but as in all groups there are duds and thugs. On balance I would say my ratio is about 75% good, and 25% less so. The ratio when I first moved here was FAR less and the ratio would be reversed. In fact, the cops in many cases were the crooks. In aviation, I have had mostly good experiences with the Feds, but there are some instances where they were fools, ignorant, and basically thugs with a badge. The ratio of good to bad is FAR better than that with most police. I know a good numbers of FAA folks and they are all mostly great people who I can respect and like.

  17. Welcome to the new world where politicians and public employees have become the hunters, the people the hunted. These predators live and fraternize amongst each other in a culture all their own, socially alienated from members of the public, not unlike lumberjacks at odds with tree huggers, or game hunters with animal rights people.

  18. randy, He would need to have planned to do this. He would have needed to have known the kid previously, maybe have dealt w/ him personally or professionally prior to this incident. He would have had to tell cops in that precinct, if you get a call to this kid’s house, make sure you call me.

    What should have been a lesson form Zimmerman is, don’t overcharge. Randy, I understand your emotion and I like passion. Maybe some would argue 2nd degree, but I say that would be the Zimmerman mistake. This appears to be manslaughter.

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