By Patrick Malone / The Seattle Times
Content warning: This story discusses suicidal thoughts.
Former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman alarmed his family in late January with repeated threats to kill himself before the King County Sheriff’s Office intervened and secured an Extreme Risk Protection Order to secure his weapons, according to newly released documents.
As Sherman’s mental health crisis escalated in mid-December 2020, his wife proactively removed Sherman’s four handguns and a semiautomatic rifle from their shared residence.
But by late January he tried to acquire another gun, and sent alarming messages to his wife threatening to end his life, and he asked a close family friend to return his stored weapons, according to King County sheriff’s records obtained by The Seattle Times.
Decisive action by Sherman’s family, the sheriff’s office and a gun dealer kept Sherman from obtaining a weapon as concern swelled among those closest to him. His case shows how laws passed to keep guns away from someone in crisis can possibly avert tragedy.
“Time is one of our most effective tools,” said King County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Tim Meyer. “When we can slow things down, delay delivery of a firearm, we can harness the resources we have to get someone in crisis the services they need. It is a team effort in these cases to do that, and it takes families coming forward to allow us to help them with this work.”
It is unclear from the records what happened between February, when the sheriff obtained an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) barring Sherman from guns, and July, when he had a high-profile crisis resulting in his arrest and a string of charges, including driving under the influence.
On July 14, he was subdued by a police dog after crashing his car in a construction zone and trying to force his way inside his in-laws’ residence in Redmond, capping a frantic night that began with his wife’s call to the police, according to court records.
None of the charges against Sherman, 33, allege that he harmed anyone. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of driving under the influence, resisting arrest and two domestic-violence related counts.
“The importance of mental and emotional health is extremely real and I vow to get the help I need,” Sherman said on Twitter after entering his plea last month in Seattle District Court.
He was in a different mindset in late January and early February, according to the sheriff’s records, which include screen grabs of text messages from Sherman expressing deep emotional pain that made him want to end his life.
The messages were met with loving encouragement from his wife, Ashley Moss-Sherman, 32, and a family friend he considers an uncle, Eric Handley, who encouraged him to get treatment and take prescription medication to ease his struggles. They told him that he mattered and that they loved him.
At the time, Sherman’s four pistols and a semi-automatic rifle were being held by Handley, a former Washington State Patrol trooper and crisis response negotiator, according to a sheriff’s police report.
But Moss-Sherman learned that Sherman had purchased a new semi-automatic Smith & Wesson 9-mm handgun for $548.90 from Bear Arms, a gun store in Kent, on Jan. 22. After Washington state’s legally mandated 10-day waiting period, Sherman would be able to take possession of his new gun on Feb. 6, and he had made his intentions clear in text messages to his wife.
“I will finally be gone and take the pain with me,” he texted her.
Moss-Sherman did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Moss-Sherman contacted a family friend employed at the King County Sheriff’s Department, seeking help obtaining an ERPO against Sherman. The novel type of protection orders, established by the voter-approved Initiative 1491 in 2016, can temporarily limit someone’s access to firearms based on threats of self-harm.
The sheriff’s department proceeded cautiously, pondering how Sherman in a fragile mental state might respond not only to the ERPO, but to the attention it would undoubtedly generate in the news, according to the records.
One supervisor even suggested politely asking Sherman to surrender his guns, but was overruled by detectives who “wanted this case to be processed like any other similar circumstance.” They asked the court to seal the case from public view, and turned their attention to keeping the newly purchased gun from reaching Sherman.
On Jan. 28 detectives visited Bear Arms, where in about a week’s time Sherman could pick up the handgun he’d purchased, and informed its owner that “providing a firearm to Mr. Sherman could produce a dangerous situation,” according to a detective’s report. The owner cooperated and said he would refund Sherman’s money and “would not be providing the weapon to him under any circumstances.”
The same day, three investigators from the sheriff’s department visited Sherman to check on his welfare and talk with him about the message he’d sent his uncle. Sherman denied that he was experiencing suicidal thoughts and even joked with the officers and bid them goodbye with elbow bumps. But his exterior persona belied something more, according to Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Lewis’ report.
“It was clear to me that Sherman was keeping his responses brief and I had the feeling that he was not willing to fully opening up to us,” Lewis wrote. “I reminded him that we were always willing and able to help.”
Using the statements of Sherman’s wife and uncle as its justification, the King County Sheriff’s Office formally petitioned the court for an ERPO prohibiting Sherman from possessing firearms for a year. It was granted on Feb. 16.
Sherman’s next scheduled court appearance for a pretrial hearing in his pending criminal case is on Aug. 13, according to Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who may be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255); you will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community. More info: suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Or reach out to Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling. More info: crisistextline.org.