The death of Officer Jeffrey Smith, who took his own life nine days after confronting a crowd at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, was the direct result of an injury he sustained during the riot, discovered a pension board.
The decision marks the first time in the records of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. – and one of the very few times across the country – that a suicide has been classified as a death in the line of duty. .
The timing may be a tipping point in a crusade to lift long-held taboos against open discussion of depression, drug addiction and suicide in policing, with several groups pushing for officers to have better access to confidential counseling and other emotional support.
Their case was bolstered by the events of January 6, when the nation saw officers face racist assaults, slurs and taunts. The names of Officer Smith and Officer Howard Liebengood, a Capitol police officer who also committed suicide, were mentioned in the same breath as those of Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after clashing with rioters , and Officer Eugene Goodman, who drew the crowd. away from the Senate Chamber.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers have backed the call for Officers Smith and Liebengood to be granted honors for the line of duty.
But police departments generally don’t recognize suicide as work-related. According to the law, a federal benefit of $390,000 granted to the families of deceased police officers and firefighters cannot be granted for any death “caused by the intention of the officer,” a prohibition reiterated in many municipal statutes, including Washington’s.
The policy contrasts sharply with that of the US military, which now treats about 90% of suicides as in-service deaths caused by post-traumatic stress, brain injury and other deployment-related risks.
The Washington Police and Firefighters Retirement and Relief Board found this week that the head injury Constable Smith suffered during the riot, which his widow said had triggered a deep depression in her husband, was the ” sole and direct cause” of his death. He committed suicide with his service weapon the day he was ordered to return to work.
His widow, Erin Smith, will be entitled to continue to receive 100% of her husband’s salary, up from the 33% she would otherwise have received. She can still be barred from receiving the federal flat-rate benefit.
The family of Constable Liebengood, who killed himself on January 9 after working three long days after the riot, are still seeking a designation of death in the line of duty with the Employee Compensation Program Federal Department of Labor. They also requested the fixed compensation from the Ministry of Justice.
Capitol Police submitted documents last month to help the family’s claim, including information about his activities in the 24 hours before his death.
The Liebengood family pin some hope on a Internal invoice this would expand death and disability benefits to cover suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, unless shown to be unrelated to the officer’s work.
Officer Congressional Representatives Liebengood, 51, and Smith, 35, both residents of Virginia, lobbied for service designations.
The Aftermath of Capitol Riot: Key Developments
“We will be eternally grateful to him for his service in protecting our Capitol,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said of Officer Smith in a statement.
Officer Smith, a 12-year veteran of the department, loved his patrol near the Washington Mall so much that he didn’t want to be promoted for fear of being transferred.
But after the events of January 6, her mood and behavior completely changed. He was shaken and disheartened by the day’s chaotic events and uncharacteristically quick to anger, Ms Smith said.
“He was a completely different person,” she told The New York Times in July. “I believe if he hadn’t gone to work that day he would be here and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
After several months, Ms Smith and her attorney, David P. Weber, were able to obtain body-worn video of Constable Smith, which appears to show he was assaulted twice, once in the building of the Capitol and again outside, when a metal pole came flying at him.
A sergeant sent him to the Police and Fire Clinic, which deals with work-related injuries, where he was prescribed ibuprofen and sent home. After a follow-up visit about a week later, he was ordered back to work. It was on the way to his shift that he committed suicide.
Medical experts retained by Ms Smith said he had no history of depression or mental health problems before January 6 and that his death was caused by ‘post-concussion syndrome’, which can lead to problems cognition, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Luke Broadwater contributed report.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.