A Newport News police officer was criminally charged this month after his toddler accidentally shot and killed himself with the officer’s service handgun nearly four months ago.
Stefhone Christian McCombs Sr., 25, was charged Feb. 8 with allowing access to firearms by a minor — a misdemeanor — in the Oct. 29 incident at the family’s home that took the 2-year-old boy’s life.
A criminal complaint filed in Newport News Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court this week said McCombs told detectives he came home from work that Friday afternoon, removed his gun from his holster and put it on the living room couch next to him.
When his two children got home at about 9 p.m. — roughly five hours later — McCombs said he “forgot the firearm was still left unsecured on the living room couch,” the complaint said. The Glock semi-automatic 9mm was fully loaded, with a round in the chamber.
“When Mr. McCombs stepped into the kitchen, he heard a loud gunshot,” the complaint said.
He ran to the living room to find his son, Stefhone C. McCombs Jr., crying and bleeding, with the gun covered in blood. The officer picked up the toddler and drove him to Mary Immaculate Hospital, where he died.
During the ensuing investigation, McCombs told detectives it’s “not his normal practice” to leave his guns unattended and within his children’s reach. When officers searched the residence, in northern Newport News south of Lee Hall, they found another gun unsecured on a kitchen counter, though it was out of the kids’ reach.
City records show McCombs began as a Newport News Police Department recruit in September 2020, meaning he was on the job for just over a year at the time of the shooting. He’s been out on paid administrative leave since the incident.
Allowing access to firearms by children is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
A Newport News magistrate signed off on the charge Feb. 8, with officers not physically arresting McCombs but handing him a summons to appear in court this week. After his initial appearance Tuesday, he has a status hearing scheduled for March 16.
The charge is lesser than what some other local parents have faced when their children gained access to their guns and accidentally shot themselves. Some parents have been charged with felony child neglect, punishable by up to 10 years in prison — even at times in cases in which the children were not mortally wounded.
Court records in this case show that police consulted with the Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office on what charges to bring.
Asked about the charging decision for McCombs, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn said that although his prosecutors consulted with police on the charges, he has now recused his office and asked the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to handle it as special prosecutor.
Gwynn said that’s in part because some prosecutors in his office had worked closely with McCombs.
“We looked at the relationships in our office with this officer,” Gwynn said. “We decided to turn it over to a special prosecutor to fully look at it and make decisions independent of our decision.”
“We didn’t protect him,” Gwynn said of the decision to charge McCombs with a misdemeanor count, adding that it’s “certainly possible” that Norfolk prosecutors could file additional charges once they review the case.
“This may not be the end,” Gwynn said.
In years past, the Newport News Police Department had a standard practice of publicly releasing information about both police officer arrests and accidental shooting deaths.
But in the McCombs case, the department did not release any information about the toddler’s death or the officer’s arrest — with the matter only coming to light now that the case has reached the court system four months later.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew, who has led the department since 2018, said he hasn’t typically put out news releases about accidental shooting deaths in the city. In this case, he said, McCombs must pay the steep price of losing his son.
“When I look at the totality and the balance and the humanity side of things, there is no penalty, no fee, no fine, no sentence, no anything that can replace the loss of your child,” Drew said. “This was an error in judgment. It’s a tragic, tragic event, and my heart breaks for that family ... I didn’t want to sensationalize that.”
He also contends that the misdemeanor charge fits the crime.
“There was no malice, no intent, no danger to the community,” Drew said. “After researching it and talking it over, we felt that like this was the only charge that really fit the situation we had.”
The fact that McCombs is a police officer, he said, didn’t make a difference in how the case was handled.
“If this happened to a citizen who wasn’t sworn, I don’t know that I would be sending out a press release,” Drew said. “The people who put this uniform on, we are not any different than anybody else. We are held to a higher standard as we should be. But we make mistakes.”
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, email@example.com