Newport News, Va. - In an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 3, a source close to the Newport News Police Department identified 36-year-old Nicholas Christopher as the man shot by police early Wednesday morning.
Police say they fired one shot to his lower abdomen, after he refused to drop the AR-15 rifle and handgun he was carrying.
Christopher was found by police wandering around his apartment complex in the 300 block of St. Thomas Drive, and was threatening ‘suicide by cop’.
"I've had a couple interactions with him over the last few months," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash from the department. "Very bipolar, very up at times, and then extremely down. Mood swings, threatening other people, threatening suicide, and then wanted to be your best friend."
According to police, this isn’t the first time they have been in contact with Christopher.
In the last year, police have responded to Christopher’s residence several times, including a welfare check, public assistance, a domestic call and once deployed their SWAT team for a tactical situation call.
“I know there have been approximately 10 incidents in the last few months. I believe our department is trying to cover these incidents up, because of their failure to act appropriately in the past, and failure to secure proper mental health for this individual,” said the source.
When asked about the alleged cover-up, a spokesperson with the police department told NewsChannel 3 they are not commenting on allegations made from any sources.
The source also said Christopher was a former cop himself, having previous worked at Hampton University.
A spokesperson for the university confirmed Christopher no longer works there, but would not say why.
Christopher’s history as a law enforcement officer raises questions about how he had access to a ballistic vest with the words ‘POLICE’ written across it, the night he was shot.
“In my experience, someone who puts on body armor, and arms themselves that much, means to take other people with them, not suicide by cop,” said the source. “They mean to cause damage to civilians or the police officers who arrive first. I’m just glad all the law enforcement officers were ok.”
The source says this isn’t the first time Christopher has threatened to commit suicide. With his troubled history, some wonder if it could have all been prevented.
“I think that for someone who has multiple emergency custody orders, the police have responded to this residents multiple times; I think that if more actions would have been taken to seek…longer inpatient treatment, I think the incident could have very well been avoided," said the source.
However, the source does not hold police entirely responsible for letting things escalate.
"I know there are some officers who are CIT trained - that is Crisis Intervention Training, but that is really a first line defense. It is not really an in depth understanding of mental health...Someone like that, with that type of history, did not need to have access to those types of weapons.
“I know HIPAA [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] was always the roadblock that we always ran into. They can’t give you information because it violates HIPAA, but there has to be some sort of cooperation, so that law enforcement officers are aware of this when people are let back out on the streets."
No criminal charges have been brought against Christopher yet, but police say the case is still under investigation.
Christopher is recovering from the gunshot wound and police say he is expected to survive.