Widow of DC police officer who killed himself after 6 January riot says his death should be considered in the line of duty

‘We know that mental health can fail, just like physical health’, wife of fallen officer writes

Bevan Hurley
Sunday 08 August 2021 22:00
comments
Retired general says Trump is to blame for Capitol riot

The widow of police officer Jeffrey Smith, who died by suicide after being injured battling rioters on 6 January, wants her late husband’s death to be recorded as occurring in the line of duty.

Erin Smith said her husband and the three other Capitol police officers who killed themselves after the insurrection deserved to be recognised “for the horrors they have seen and protected us from”.

Writing in USA Today, Ms Smith told how the District of Columbia government had determined that her husband’s injuries didn’t qualify because they were “emotional, invisible”.

“It’s time for the mayor, the Metropolitan Police Department, the DC government, and other departments and governments around the country to recognize that silent injuries, these deaths, even when at a police officer’s own hand, are a direct result of the job they have been doing.”

On the day of the insurrection, Mr Smith, a Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Officer, responded to calls for assistance from the Capitol police.

As rioters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election results, Ms Smith said she received a text from her 35-year-old husband which said: “London has fallen”.

At 5.35pm, while defending the building, Mr Smith was struck in the head with a metal pole, and stayed on the front lines for several hours before seeking medical attention.

Ms Smith recounted how her husband’s emotional state changed after he was “brutally attacked”.

He was in constant pain, didn’t leave the house even to walk their dog, and became withdrawn and moody, she wrote.

Mr Smith went for a follow-up medical appointment on 14 January and was told to go back to work the next day.

As he was returning to duty with the DC Police, he shot himself in the head.

Since then, Ms Smith said, they had been “stigmatized, had our health insurance taken, denied even the courtesy of an official burial”.

“Medical experts, including the former chief medical examiner of the District of Columbia, have told me the events of Jan 6 are the direct cause of Jeffrey’s death,” Mrs Smith wrote in a USA Today guest opinion piece.

She has formally requested the Police and Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Board designate her husband’s suicide as in the line of duty, which will bring much greater financial benefits.

It would also provide her and the memory of her husband with dignity, she said.

“We know that mental health can fail, just like physical health. That knowledge should lead to changes in how police officer deaths and injuries are treated.”

US Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood was the first to take his own life three days after the Capitol riot, followed on 15 January by officer Jeffrey Smith.

It was later announced that police officer Gunther Hashida had died by suicide on July 29.

Hours after Mr Hashida’s death was announced, Capitol police confirmed a fourth officer, Kyle DeFreytag, had also died by suicide in July.

A select committee has begun investigating the events of 6 January.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments