A police officer said 'I don't have time for this' before shooting an 18-year-old with a mental illness dead in his home, his mother says

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz
·11 min read
Keith Vidal, North Carolina
Keith Vidal loved to play the drums. Of all his siblings, he was the funny guy, his mom said. Mary Wilsey
  • After an unsuccessful attempt to get her 18-year-old son involuntarily committed for treatment, Mary Wilsey turned to 911 to assist with his mental-health crisis.

  • When the first two officers arrived, they talked calmly to her distressed son and tried to get him to treatment. But minutes later, a third arrived and shot him dead in front of his parents.

  • Wilsey is one of five mothers who talked to Insider about calling 911 to help their son, only for officers to kill him instead. Read the other stories here.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

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Mary Wilsey had been confined to her home on the North Carolina coast for about a week, spending almost every moment monitoring her 18-year-old son, who was suicidal.

Other than leaving the room to use the bathroom, she stayed by her son's side.

Her son, Keith Vidal, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was in a mental-health crisis. She tried to have him hospitalized on December 27, 2014, but a nurse turned him away after telling her that he wasn't having thoughts about harming himself or others. Wilsey knew he was lying; she found a suicide note.

Just over a week later, with no change in his behavior, the family turned to the police to ensure Vidal would get treatment. Instead, an officer shot Vidal dead in his home.

"We were more concerned that Keith was going to hurt himself. We were never concerned for our safety, because he was never a threat to anybody but himself," Wilsey told Insider.

On the morning of January 5, 2014, Wilsey had just returned from a grocery-store run. She said her son didn't recognize her. Wilsey's husband, Vidal's stepfather, called 911.

"We explained to 911 dispatch that we have a child who has schizophrenia and that we wanted to do an involuntary" commitment, Wilsey said.

Two officers responded. One had been to the home a few days earlier to try to take Vidal to the hospital for a medication adjustment and was familiar with his situation.

Officer John Thomas, from the small Boiling Spring Lakes Police Department, and Samantha Lewis-Chavis, a deputy with the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office, were patient with Vidal, who holding a small screwdriver, Wilsey told Insider.

They attempted to de-escalate the situation by asking him if they could take him to the hospital to adjust his medication, his mother said. They also asked him how he was feeling and tried to talk with him.

Vidal, who was experiencing severe paranoia, was standing in the hallway, demanding that the officers leave the house.

After about five minutes, another officer, Detective Bryon Vassey of the nearby Southport Police Department, came through the front door wearing plain clothes. He didn't identify himself, Wilsey said.

"I didn't even know who he was. I didn't even know he was a cop," Wilsey told Insider. "He took approximately eight steps to reach Samantha Chavis and said, 'I don't have time for this shit.'"

Lewis-Chavis later testified in court that Vassey said something along those lines.

Vidal ran into the bathroom. When he came back out, Lewis-Chavis used her stun gun, at Vassey's request, and Vidal fell to the ground, according to Wilsey and Lewis-Chavis' testimony.

Thomas climbed on top of him to take him into custody. Lewis-Chavis was also trying to get the situation under control.

"So you have Keith on the floor, two cops on top of him, another cop to my left, and me and my husband all in the hallway," Wilsey recalled. "My husband takes the screwdriver out of his hands, and out of the corner of my eye, I see Bryon Vassey take his gun out and do a kill shot."

Vassey fired 14 seconds after Lewis-Chavis stunned Vidal, Lewis-Chavis testified in 2016, according to the Port City Daily.

Vidal had been struck in the armpit. The bullet pierced both of his lungs, and he died soon after, according to his mother and officials.

"My son is laying on the floor in the hallway, bleeding, dead. I watched his eyes roll back in his head," Wilsey told Insider. "I watched my son die."

Lewis-Chavis said the bang was deafening. Thomas said he was so close that he went outside after the shooting to ask other officers whether he was injured too.

A life gone in less than 2 minutes

From the time Vassey arrived at Wilsey's home to when he alerted the station that he had discharged his weapon, 70 seconds had passed, Wilsey told Insider.

"He blew Samantha Chavis' eardrum out. He could have shot the other officer in the head. All this is taking place in a 3-foot hallway," Wilsey said. "He put those officers in danger, and he hurt one of those officers, all because he didn't 'have time for this shit.'"

Vassey was eventually charged with voluntary manslaughter. He was acquitted in a bench trial in 2016.

At first, Vassey told investigators he fired in self-defense. At the trial, though, he said he fired to protect the other officers.

Thomas testified at Vassey's trial that Vidal was not a threat, the Wilmington Star-News reported.

"He could not get up and I had a hold of his hands," Thomas said, according to court transcripts viewed by Insider. "My recollection of that is he never came close to hurting me."

On the stand, Thomas was asked whether Vassey made the appropriate call to ask officers to tase Vidal.

"No," Thomas responded. "He was not long enough there to assess the situation."

On the day of the shooting, Vassey had several drugs in his system, including the antidepressant Cymbalta, the anxiety drug Klonopin, the painkiller hydrocodone, two blood-pressure medications, and acid-reflux medication, court transcripts say.

Vassey testified in court that the drugs were all prescribed to him by doctors for various medical conditions and symptoms, including trouble sleeping, restless leg syndrome, and pain from an oral surgery a month prior.

Researchers have found that in the US, about 10% of police calls for service each year involve some form of mental crisis, Dennis Kenney, a former officer and current professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, recently told Insider.

In 2015, police records indicated that about 25% of the people the police shot were experiencing such a crisis, The Washington Post reported; as of mid-October this year, that figure was nearly 20%.

A 2015 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that the risk of being killed by law enforcement for people with an untreated mental illness - about one in 50 people - was 16 times as high as the risk for other people.

Police-reform advocates around the country - including some mothers who lost their children to police shootings - are pushing for alternatives to 911 for responding to a mental-health crisis.

Some cities have created mental-health response teams staffed with unarmed clinicians who respond to emergency situations without the police in most cases.

The Southport Police Department didn't return a message seeking comment on the 2014 case.

Keith Vidal
Vidal was shot and killed in January 2014. He was 18. Mary Wilsey

Vidal's killing continues to haunt his family

The days after Vidal was killed are seared into his mother's mind.

In the hours after the shooting, Vidal's family members weren't allowed into their home because it had been deemed a crime scene.

Wilsey said the coroner held on to Vidal's body for a week and performed an autopsy without his family's consent.

"There was no reason to do an autopsy. They knew who shot him, and they knew it was a gun. I would have never let them do an autopsy," Wilsey said.

"Do you have any idea what it's like to go to a funeral home and watch them unzip the bag that your child is in and to see what they did? Wasn't murdering him enough?"

Vidal's story grabbed national attention. News outlets approached Wilsey, and she was recognized anywhere she went. Her living son moved away because he couldn't deal with the stress of being reminded of his brother's killing.

Wilsey sued the city of Boiling Spring Lakes and settled for $1 million, she said.

She and her husband divorced, and she moved to Long Island, New York, to be closer to her sister.

"My son is an only child. Bryon Vassey destroyed my family," Wilsey said.

"My whole family had mental-health issues after," she said. "When you watch your child be murdered by someone who was supposed to help them, yeah, that kind of messes you up a little."

Keith Vidal
"My son is laying on the floor in the hallway, bleeding, dead. I watched his eyes roll back in his head," Mary Wilsey, Vidal's mother, told Insider. "I watched my son die." Mary Wilsey

From a buoyant drummer to a distressed teen

Vidal grew up in a busy house with five siblings - two were Wilsey's children, and three were his stepfather's.

Their family played sports and musical instruments, and Wilsey carted the kids to their extracurricular activities.

"When I got my stepchildren, we suddenly became six, the 'Brady Bunch,'" Wilsey said. "There's never a dull moment with six children."

Vidal loved drumming and would play with his church youth group. He was also the funniest of the children, always making his parents laugh, Wilsey said.

When he was 10, though, tragedy befell the family.

Vidal's older sister, whom he was very close with, died in a car accident about five minutes from his home. His mom rushed there with him in the car because she couldn't leave him home alone.

His sister's death was traumatic. "What I started noticing is that he didn't want to leave me. I guess that's somewhat normal for when you lose a sibling," Wilsey said. "His fears were very normal, I would think."

But over time, Vidal's fears escalated, and he reached a point where he no longer wanted to leave the house. Wilsey sought counseling for her son and pulled him out of school that year. He was homeschooled from then on.

He was doing better for a while, but by 16 he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, his mom told Insider.

He was depressed and hospitalized twice. There were seldom enough beds in the state to get him the longer-term care he needed. The only way she could get treatment for her son was through an involuntary commitment. After the hospital turned her down, she turned to 911, she said.

Wilsey said that she doesn't believe all police officers are problems and that she has several friends who are officers. But she will hesitate to call 911 in the future.

"For a medical issue, I'd call immediately, because I'm not trained to handle a heart attack," Wilsey said. "Would I call for a mental-health crisis? Absolutely not."

The police officer who shot Vidal 'never assessed the situation,' Wilsey says

In the weeks after Vidal was killed, Wilsey and her now-ex-husband tried to retrace Vassey's steps. They wanted to understand how it was possible that he walked from his car into their home, shot Vidal, and returned to his car in under two minutes.

Wilsey said she would walk down her driveway, stop where he stopped in their living room to say what he said, and then pretend to pull out a gun and fire. Then she would walk back to the driveway.

She said she couldn't get it done in 70 seconds.

"He never assessed the situation," Wilsey said. "He never saw the person he murdered until he took the gun out and killed him."

Wilsey said she would like to see mandatory de-escalation training for all officers. Lewis-Chavis, who had received crisis-intervention training, was better prepared to handle Vidal's situation, she said.

Wilsey also said she thinks that officers should not be allowed to work or carry a gun while taking a long list of painkillers and other drugs, as Vassey was. She wants frequent, mandatory drug testing of all officers.

"I'd like these cops to be trained, and I'd like them to stop killing our mentally ill and our disabled people," she said.

Wilsey said she desperately misses her son and constantly relives the moment she watched him die in her own home.

"I wake up every day having to hope that my living son doesn't become mentally ill from this trauma," she said.

She added: "I didn't want my son dead. I wanted him to get help."

Read the original article on Insider