A gun goes off, a young life is taken in Johnston. Now his friend is charged in the death

JOHNSTON – A juvenile has been charged with manslaughter and several more gun charges in the accidental shooting death of 16-year-old Dillon Viens, whose mother and cousin came to the State House last week to plead with state lawmakers to pass a proposed new firearm-storage law.

"Although the filing of these criminal charges won’t bring Dillon back, hopefully it brings a sense of justice to the family," said Johnston Police Chief Mark Vieira, adding, "This tragedy underscores the importance for owners of firearms to properly secure them to prevent shooting deaths such as these."

Dillon was a freshman at William M. Davies Jr. Career and Technical High School when he died, the victim of what police called an accidental shooting at a friend's house in Johnston in February 2022.

"His friend's uncle had four guns that weren't locked up at the house," Dillon's 15-year-old cousin Eli Houle told the House Judiciary Committee.

Dillon's mother, Rhonda Brewster, described what happened, her voice breaking: "Having those weapons available ... and accessible to a teenager who was careless in ... parading the guns around and showing them off to his friends because he thought that was the right thing to do ... ended in taking a life."

Bill's critic: 'The government has no right to come into our private homes ...'

The legislation that brought them to the State House faced resistance.

Tonya Pereira of Cranston told lawmakers that any mandate to gun owners to lock up their guns is "anything but safe."

"You never know when something bad is going to happen," she said. "You don't know if somebody's going to break into your house. You don't know if somebody's going to target you while you're home alone. And in order to act in self-defense, law abiding citizens should be able to keep firearms in their own home however [they deem] necessary and safe.

"If you sleep with a gun by your bedside, you have every right to do so in any responsible manner. The government has no right to come into our private homes and tell us what we can do with these inanimate objects that we have legally purchased," she said.

What's happening in the Viens case?

On Friday – more than a year after Dillon's death – Johnston police announced the arrest of an unnamed "juvenile male yesterday in connection with the shooting" on Feb. 12, 2022, at a home on Cedar Street in Johnston.

According to the police statement, a juvenile was arraigned in Family Court after being charged with manslaughter, using a firearm while committing a crime of violence, two counts of possession of a firearm by a minor and possession of ammunition by a minor.

Days after the shooting, Johnston police announced the arrest of Marios Kirios, age 30, of Central Avenue, Johnston, on five misdemeanor counts of unsafe storage of a firearm in connection with Dillon's death.

Vieira said Kirios has now also been charged with "contributing to the delinquency of a minor as a result of his unsecured firearm being used in this shooting death. He will be arraigned at the Kent County Court House on April 28."

The case came together after the incident was ruled a homicide based on the state medical examiner’s report corroborated by interviews conducted by Johnston police detectives and physical evidence recovered at the scene, Vieira said.

What would the proposed new law do?

The State House debate centered on the introduction for the third year in a row of a bill to mandate the safe storage of firearms, as recommended by a 2018 gun-safety task force.

Under current Rhode Island law, a gun owner is criminally liable only if a child – someone under 16 years old – gets access to and discharges a gun, causing injury to himself or herself or others.

Upon conviction, that individual could be fined up to $1,000 and/or imprisoned for up to a year. Without knowing the age of the boy who allegedly shot Dillion, it is unclear if it applied in his case.

By way of comparison, Massachusetts requires that all guns must be stored in a locked container or equipped with a locking device whenever not in use.

The Massachusetts law also "provides that violation of the law may be used as evidence of reckless conduct in a criminal or civil legal proceeding.

Dillion's father, David Viens, has a wrongful death suit pending against Kirios in Superior Court.

One of the two safe storage bill up for debate in Rhode Island last week – H 5434 – would require that all guns not in use be "secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged in order to render such firearm inoperable by any person other than the owner."

The penalties would escalate from a miniimum $250 civil infraction to a potential five years in prison and/or $5,000 fine in a worst-case scenario where the firearm is used by an adult or child in the "commission of a crime or to cause injury to himself or herself or any other person."

Another version – H 5369 – has been introduced by Rep. Deborah Fellela of Johnston.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Boy charged in friend's death at center of RI gun storage debate