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Police Standing Their Ground?

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – Keith Vidal of Boiling Springs Lakes, N.C. was shot and killed on Jan. 10, following a 9-1-1 call that was placed by his mother claiming he was threatening her with a screwdriver. Two police officers who initially responded to the call attempted to calm down Vidal, 18, before a third officer from Southport arrived on scene. Vidal had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was apparently acting up after a disagreement.
According to a CNN report, Vidal’s stepfather, Mark Wisley, claimed that everything was going smoothly until the third officer arrived. He claims the officer said, “We don’t have time for this. Tase that kid now. Let’s get him out of here.” Shortly after, Vidal reportedly made a stabbing motion at an exposed body part of another officer, causing the Southport officer to shoot the boy in what he claims to be self-defense. The boy had already been tasered and was being held down by the other two officers when the shot was fired. After investigations by the Office of Professional Standards and the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, it has been determined so far that the officers in question were in clear danger, and therefore did not violate policy.
This event has been met with immense criticism and controversy from the media and the public especially after the George Zimmermann trial that occurred last summer. Many commenters on news outlets argue that deadly force should not have been necessary against a 90-pound boy wielding only a small screwdriver. However, the unpredictable nature of dealing with mentally-ill individuals, as well as the right to defend yourself against an imminent threat also must be considered in this case. Let’s take a look at some of the legal issues regarding this case.

Family and friends mourn the loss of Keith Vidal. Image taken from:
Family and friends mourn the loss of Keith Vidal. Image taken from:

According to the law in North Carolina, one is relieved from civil or criminal liability when using force (not deadly force) against another person when they believe it is necessary to prevent them from inflicting bodily harm against you. However, a person is justified in using deadly force if A) He or she reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to prevent death to himself/herself or another B) Generally when you are in your home, workplace or car and are in fear for yours or another’s life. Deadly force is not justified if it is used against a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman who was lawfully carrying out their duties and has properly identified themselves.
The latter half of this law is often referred to as Castle Doctrine; which asserts that one’s home is essentially like your own personal “castle” in which you have the right to defend however necessary when under a threat of attack or unlawful action. In this particular case, the police officers were not in their own home; however, they were at their workplace in essence. The real question that has not been answered quite yet deals with whether the 90-pound Vidal’s lunging at the officers truly presented a situation that could be deemed as an imminent threat on the lives of the men.
Considering the fact that there were three grown men on the scene responding to one young teenager seems to indicate that deadly force should not have been necessary.
According to Mark O’Mara, a CNN Legal Analyst, shooting Vidal should not have been their only option. The officers should have exhausted all methods of non-lethal action, such as using their taser or attempting to back away from the situation. Another issue to consider is how much damage Vidal could have caused an officer had he been able to stab him with the screwdriver. It is not uncommon for people to survive despite being stabbed multiple times with a knife, such as in the case of Mary-Kay Beckman.
A photo of the young man reportedly killed by police. Image taken from:
A photo of the young man reportedly killed by police. Image taken from:

Beckman, who was stabbed by the killer, Wade Ridley, ten times with a butcher knife, was able to survive her injuries. Of course, there are victims who are mortally wounded after being stabbed once; yet, one must question whether being stabbed once by a 90-pound teenager holding a small screwdriver would turn out to be fatal.
George Zimmermann, who benefitted this summer from Florida’s Stand Your Ground Laws, has received negative publicity to say the least after using deadly force against Trayvon Martin. In that case, it was one man versus one teenager. There were also no witnesses in the Zimmermann case which made it more challenging for law enforcement to determine whether he truly acted in self-defense.
In this case, you have three trained police officers versus one teenager. The teenager’s family was present at the scene of the crime. Were they telling the complete truth? Or were they fabricating part of the story as a result of their resentment towards the officer’s actions? It is clear as to why the public, as well as Vidal’s family could be outraged by the actions of the North Carolina Police. Yet, it remains to be seen whether the officer, who is currently on paid administrative leave, will be charged with a criminal offense.
He could face up to first-degree murder charges if the situation becomes judicial decision deems that the scenario was not an imminent threat to the officer’s life. Or, he could be deemed a hero in the public’s eye for swift action during a life-threatening scenario. It is now up to further investigation. Stay tuned for updates.