Content warning: This story discusses suicidal thoughts.

Former 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.

That action, along with early intervention from his family and the cooperation of 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 a tragedy.

Sherman’s mental health crisis was escalating in mid-December 2020, when his family removed Sherman’s four handguns and a semiautomatic rifle from their home, according to King County Sheriff’s records obtained by The Seattle Times.

But by late January he tried to acquire another gun, sent alarming messages to his wife threatening to end his life, and asked a close family friend to return his stored weapons, according to the records.

The Extreme Risk Protection Order de-escalated the crisis.

“Time is one of our most effective tools,” said King County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson 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 the Extreme Risk Protection Order barring Sherman from having guns, and July, when he had a high-profile crisis resulting in his arrest and a string of charges, including driving under the influence. 

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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’ home 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 tweeted after entering his plea last month in Seattle District Court.

He was in a different frame of mind 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. 

Sherman’s wife, Ashley Moss-Sherman, 32, responded to the messages with statements of love and support, and a family friend Sherman considers an uncle, Eric Handley, encouraged him to get treatment and take prescription medication to ease his struggles.

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How to find help

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.

At the time, Sherman’s four pistols and a semiautomatic 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 semiautomatic 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 have been 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.

In a statement released Thursday through Sherman’s attorney, Sherman and Moss-Sherman asked for “understanding and privacy as we work through this family matter.

“We are disappointed that the Sheriff’s office released our private communications without notifying us even after a judge had twice ruled that records related to the ERPO petition should remain sealed.”

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After learning of her husband’s attempt to buy a gun in January, Moss-Sherman contacted a family friend who worked at the King County Sheriff’s Office, seeking help obtaining an ERPO against Sherman, according to records. The novel type of protection order, established by the voter-approved Initiative 1491 in 2016, can temporarily limit someone’s access to firearms based on threats of self-harm.

Mental health resources

If you or someone you know needs support for mental health, here’s where to find help.

Crisis Connections: Covers King County and surrounding areas with five programs focused on serving the emotional and physical needs of people across Washington state. Call 206-461-3222.

Washington 211: Free referral and informational help line that connects people to health and human services, available 24/7. Call 211.

Washington Recovery Helpline: 24-hour crisis-intervention and referral assistance for substance abuse, mental health and gambling. Call 866-789-1511.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: National network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 800-273-8255.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: The nation’s largest grassroots mental-health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Mental Health America: Nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans.

Here’s where to find diverse mental health resources in Seattle.

The Sheriff’s Office 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 and told the 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 Office visited Sherman to check on his welfare and talk with him about the message he’d sent his uncle. Sherman denied that he was having suicidal thoughts and even joked with the officers and bid them goodbye with elbow bumps. But his exterior persona belied something more, according to the report by Deputy Timothy Lewis.

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“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 Aug. 13, according to Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Since the ERPO law took effect in 2018, 256 petitions for the protection orders have been submitted to King County courts, including 39 so far this year, according to Sandra Shanahan, program manager of the Regional Domestic Violence and Firearms Enforcement Unit. The unit is a collaboration among prosecutors, Seattle police and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Shanahan said anyone who believes they may be in need of an ERPO or wants to learn more about them can contact the program by email at ERPO@kingcounty.gov.

Seattle Times staff reporter Elise Takahama contributed to this report.