A man who authorities knew was suicidal obtained a gun and shot himself in the head Aug. 16 while handcuffed in the back seat of a Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office patrol SUV.

Sheriff’s Capt. Charles Carey said Monday that the man reached into the parked SUV’s “restricted area,” got a gun from a “compartment” and shot himself. He said the gun was unloaded, but that the man presumably got the bullets from the same unspecified compartment.

The man’s mother, Linda Richardson, accused the Sheriff’s Office of negligence in interviews with The Free Lance–Star on Friday and Monday, saying: “This did not have to happen. If it had been anybody else, he could’ve picked up the gun and started shooting [other people],” she said.

An internal investigation is ongoing, Carey said.

Richardson said her son, Chris Howard, 46, was critically wounded when he shot himself under the chin while sitting alone in the SUV as deputies stood nearby. Authorities had arrested Howard near his home on Mine Road after an extended search, which they initiated as a result of a report that he was suicidal, Richardson said.

Richardson said the Sheriff’s Office has not explained how her son got the gun while in custody, but Capt. Carey said Monday that Richardson canceled a meeting with authorities to discuss the incident. The Free Lance–Star first requested information on the shooting several weeks ago, but the Sheriff’s Office declined to provide details until after the newspaper interviewed Richardson.

Carey said authorities wanted to speak with the man’s family first as a courtesy to them.

Richardson said a lieutenant invited her to his office to go over preliminary information shortly after the shooting, but she declined because “my concern right now is my son.” The Sheriff’s Office has not called her since last month, she said.

Carey offered a brief overview of the lead-up to the shooting on the 3100 block of Mine Road.

He said deputies handcuffed the man’s wrists behind his back and placed him in the back seat of a patrol SUV. The man was somehow able to put his handcuffed wrists in front of him and reach through a “cage” and into the vehicle’s “restricted area” where he obtained the gun, Carey said.

He said he is not sure how the man got past the cage, which can include glass barriers that slide open when unlocked.

Carey said deputies were standing nearby, discussing their next course of action, when the man shot himself.

“It’s just sad that people go through these things, and we never know what’s going on in their head,” he said.

Richardson, who lives in Stafford County, said her son was upset because he and his girlfriend had broken up. She said a friend of her son’s called authorities Aug. 16 after discovering a suicide note he believed Howard had written.

Someone alerted Richardson to the situation, and she arrived at her son’s property as deputies continued their search.

She said deputies were able to find her son in the woods and cuffed him using two pairs of handcuffs, presumably because Howard is a large man. Richardson said she is not sure whether the handcuffs were fastened behind Howard’s back or in front of him, but that she noticed her son rocking back and forth in the back seat of the vehicle. She thinks he may have been trying to move his handcuffed wrists to the front of his body.

Howard somehow retrieved his cellphone and called a friend from inside the SUV, his mom said. Richardson was standing next to the friend during that phone call and said her son told him: “Tell my family I love them, and I’m sorry.”

Then she heard a gunshot.

Her son, bleeding profusely, was able to walk to an ambulance with deputies on either side of him, Richardson said. She said deputies initially told her that the bullet grazed her son’s head, but the amount of blood inside the SUV indicated otherwise.

Howard’s condition worsened, and he was flown from Mary Washington Hospital to Richmond’s VCU Medical Center, where he is now able to communicate only by writing on a dry-erase board, Richardson said. She said the family has not yet discussed the incident with Howard.

Richardson said she was the only relative permitted to see Howard at the hospital until about Aug. 30, when the Sheriff’s Office approved visits from immediate family. She said the Sheriff’s Office assigned deputies and detectives to watch over the room.

A hospital social worker called her Thursday to say Howard would not face charges, Richardson said. The Sheriff’s Office was no longer monitoring the room, she said the social worker told her.

Carey said the suicidal man had previous warrants, but he was unsure if Howard would face more charges related to the shooting.

Richardson set up a GoFundMe page to help with her son’s medical expenses. He has already undergone five surgeries with more to come, she wrote in a post.

“We are asking for prayers for Chris and his family, he is a big hearted guy and we hope you will open your hearts and provide him and his family with the support they need,” the post stated.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402


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