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Family seeks ‘line-of-duty’ recognition for DC officer who died by suicide after Capitol riot

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 9:53 AM CST
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(CNN) – Two police officers in Washington, D.C., took their own lives after responding to last month’s Capitol insurrection.

Now, one officer’s family is pushing for him to be recognized as someone who died in the line of duty.

Newly released audio reveals the panic of D.C. police officers who confronted the violent mob at the Capitol.

Days later, after the violence died down, two officers who responded on Jan. 6 killed themselves.

One was D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Smith. He was 35, and he leaves behind his wife Erin, whom he married in 2019.

“It’s been extremely difficult. She was in Atlanta with her parents, and she had to come back here to receive the contents of Jeff’s locker…and that’s what she’s contending with,” said David P. Weber, an attorney for the Smith family.

Weber believes Smith suffered brain trauma from a blow to the head on Jan. 6, and that it may have led to his suicide.

“I don’t think there’s any dispute that he was subjected to some pretty extreme trauma,” Weber said.

Now, Erin Smith is pushing for city officials to recognize her husband’s passing as a “line-of-duty” death.

A source told CNN an officer suicide has never been considered a line-of-duty death in D.C.

“Officers are twice as likely to take their own life as they are to be killed by the bad guys,” said Jeff McGill, the founder of Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit outreach group for people affected by officer suicides.

“This is something that law enforcement needs to come to terms with, and we need to start addressing this openly to change the culture and change the narrative,” he said.

McGill said 150 officers lost their lives to suicide last year nationwide, and their families often receive no financial help.

“They’re not getting support. They’re not getting benefits,” McGill said. “We get horrendous stories from widows and widowers about how they were treated, how they were immediately removed from the law enforcement family.”

Weber explained: “The significance of the line-of-duty death is that Ms. Smith is now left where Officer Smith was the primary breadwinner, was the primary income earner, was the person who had the health insurance.

“If it is not a line-of-duty death, she will receive a lump-sum payment of a very small amount of money, which is not sufficient as a savings mechanism, but it’s also not appropriate under the facts and circumstances.”

Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood also killed himself days after Jan. 6, and officials said about 140 officers were injured as a result of the riot.

On the Senate floor last week, House impeachment manager Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, warned other officers could still be at risk.

“Several Capitol police officers have reportedly threatened self-harm in the days following the riot,” Cicilline said. “And in one case, an officer voluntarily turned in her gun because she was afraid of what might happen.”

So far, more than 200 people have been charged for their suspected roles in the Capitol riot.

One Capitol officer, Brian Sicknick, died as a direct result of violence on Jan. 6.

For those experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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