Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mourning dad lets go of rage

TAMPA — A man who once expressed his grief with his fists did something surprising on Monday. He looked calmly into a news camera and explained that he is moving away from vigilante justice.

Vidal Mills, 36, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad player, had just stood before a Hillsborough County judge and agreed to a plea deal that will keep him out of prison in the October beating of a man at a Tampa McDonald's.

Mills dished out the beating — in view of security cameras — because he thought the man had killed his 17-year-old son, C.J. He insisted the man had it coming.

Nine months later, Mills took a softer tone, saying vengeance will not be a priority even if C.J.'s killer is never caught. He focuses, instead, on coaching football and parenting his remaining kids.

"Even if I don't get another lead," Mills said, "hopefully, my heart's at ease."

Was this the same unhinged man the St. Petersburg Times profiled in April? Then, Vidal Mills' father said he feared Mills was going to get killed trying to avenge C.J.'s death.

The earlier Vidal Mills rarely visited C.J.'s grave because he said it made him violent. The new Vidal Mills goes to the grave when he's angry, sits on the stone bench inscribed "Good Guy Gone," and cools down.

• • •

C.J. Mills was a sophomore at Jefferson High School, his father's alma mater. He was a popular student who wrote out goals and stared at them every morning. He wanted to play linebacker at the University of Miami and follow his father into the pros.

Coaches compared the honorable mention all-state player to his father. Both knocked players off their cleats.

Vidal Mills' pro career had been cut short by injuries and bad decisions. He trained his son to be better and showed him the pitfalls he made.

The relationship was severed April 25, 2007, when two men drove up to the Mills' Lincoln Gardens home and shot C.J. to death in the front yard.

Tampa police have named no suspects, saying only that the men drove a Chrysler Sebring. The driver was a light-skinned black man who wore a ball cap and red bandana over his face and carried a chrome handgun. The passenger was of medium complexion, wore a black bandana and carried a black gun.

C.J.'s cell phone and gold medallion vanished, police said.

Vidal Mills said his anger ate at him each day detectives failed to make an arrest. He investigated rumors and sat outside housing projects in the wee hours, waiting for drug dealers who might know something.

On Sept. 24, he double-parked outside a Tampa Verizon building. Another driver honked and yelled. Mills punched the 33-year-old with such force that two newspaper stands bowled over behind him, according to a police report. He was charged with battery.

Less than a month later, he was arrested in the McDonald's beating. This time, the victim was Fredrick Powell, 20.

Mills had heard rumors that Powell was bragging about killing C.J. When Mills' stepdaughter saw Powell at the McDonald's where she worked, she called her mother and Mills arrived in minutes.

Without a word, Mills punched Powell, wrapped him in a headlock and dragged him toward the door. He released Powell after police were on the way. Officers arrested Mills at home.

Powell has denied any involvement in C.J. Mills' death. Police don't consider him a suspect.

• • •

On Monday, both of Mills' battery cases were resolved in the no-contest plea arranged by his lawyer, Jaime Garcia. Mills wanted to spare his stepdaughter from testifying at a trial.

"I've got to look at it from the outside in," Mills said. "I have to do this for my family, as well."

He will serve nine months of probation, pay fees and fines and keep away from his victims. He must enroll in anger management classes and complete 25 hours of community service.

Hillsborough County Judge John Conrad said Mills can serve them at his new nonprofit organization, Creative Body Image Inc.

Mills, who coaches an indoor football team, started the nonprofit to mentor athletes seeking college scholarships. He has been negotiating with recreation centers and still needs funding.

The new program, his coaching, his son and daughter in Lakeland and his family in Tampa have helped him channel his energy, he said.

"How do I cope? Every day with my other kids," he said. "I keep them close. Every day, they call to make sure daddy's okay."

He said he doesn't believe detectives will make an arrest. Police haven't given up.

"It's been a very frustrating case for the detectives because they believe there's people in the community who know more about this case than they've revealed so far," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. "We have tried to appeal to the public to try and break through the antisnitching culture. But at this time we still have unanswered questions."

In the meantime, Mills said he works on keeping self control.

On Sunday, he wrote down Luke 1:37 and transferred it to his cell phone as a reminder.

For nothing is impossible with God.

Justin George can be reached at [email protected] or(813) 226-3368.

Mourning dad lets go of rage 07/13/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 13, 2009 10:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.