Washington, DC – The death of a DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer who committed suicide more than a week after responding to the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, will be treated as a line-of-duty incident, a benefits board determined on Wednesday.
The 12-year MPD veteran took his own life on Jan. 15, 2021.
Officer Smith’s wife, Erin Smith, had been fighting for more than a year to have her husband’s suicide treated as a line-of-duty death, CNN reported.
Officer Smith’s family said he was hit in his face shield and helmet with a metal pole during the riot and that he did not attend any counseling sessions while he was out recovering from his injuries, The Washington Post reported.
Officer Smith, one of 850 MPD officers who responded to the Capitol building, was not specifically contacted by the department about speaking with a counselor after the riot, his family said.
He continued working after the assault and later went to the police medical clinic, where he was prescribed pain medication and sent home, according to Erin Smith.
She said he was in constant pain in the days that followed, and he refused to interact with anyone or to leave the house, The Washington Post reported.
“He wasn’t the same Jeff that left on the 6th,” Erin later said. “I just tried to comfort him and let him know that I loved him…I told him I’d be there if he needed anything, that no matter what, we’ll get through it. I tried to do the best I could.”
She said her husband never struggled with depression prior to the riot.
Officer Smith was sent back to work after a follow-up appointment on Jan. 14, 2021, The Washington Post reported.
He fatally shot himself in the head while on his way to the precinct the following day.
“If he didn’t go to work that day, he would still be alive,” Erin Smith told The Washington Post in February of 2021.
She filed a petition with the District of Columbia’s Police and Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Board last year, urging them to declare her husband’s suicide a line-of-duty death, CNN reported.
David Weber, her attorney, obtained video footage showing the attack on Officer Smith and argued he committed suicide due to suffering a traumatic brain injury caused by the assault.
“At the beginning, we didn’t know what happened to Officer Smith,” Weber said, according to CNN. “We took the evidence from the autopsy, expert witnesses, body camera footage and federal subpoenas to prove that Jeff suffered a traumatic brain injury on January 6.”
Weber said the veteran officer’s death was caused by a bullet, but that “the chain of events was set in motion on January 6 and the chain was not broken,” CNN reported.
The Retirement and Relief Board initially denied Erin Smith’s request, but vacated that decision on March 9 and declared that Officer Smith died in the line of duty.
The board advised Erin Smith in a letter that they determined Officer Smith “sustained a personal injury on January 6, 2021, while performing his duties and that his injury was the sole and direct cause of his death.”
The ruling grants his widow an annuity equal to his pay, as well as health and other benefits, CNN reported.
Erin Smith is now calling for additional recognition for her husband.
“Erin Smith calls for her husband to now be entitled to the ceremony and honor to which a fallen hero and his family is entitled,” Weber said. “She knows this is going to help so many future families.”
Three other law enforcement officers also committed suicide after responding to the U.S. Capitol riot, WTOP reported.
The family of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Howard “Howie” Liebengood has been pushing the federal government to recognize his Jan. 9, 2021 suicide as a line-of-duty death, according to the news outlet.
“Going forward, it remains incumbent on policymakers, including Congress, to continue to work to update our laws in ways that remove stigma wrongly attached to suicide,” U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) declared.