He Killed Himself After the Jan. 6 Riot. Did He Die in the Line of Duty?

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Jeffrey Smith, a constabulary serviceman who confronted a mob successful the Capitol, aboriginal changeable himself. His widow blames the riot, and is asking for afloat decease benefits.

Jeffrey Smith was 1  of hundreds of Metropolitan Police Department officers deployed during the Capitol riot connected  Jan. 6.
Credit...via Erin Smith

Shaila Dewan

July 29, 2021, 8:37 p.m. ET

Jeffrey Smith, a 12-year seasoned patrolman, was 1 of hundreds of Metropolitan Police Department officers deployed connected Jan. 6 to support the Capitol from a convulsive mob. He was deed successful the caput with a metallic rod during the melee and afterward, his woman said, helium seemed to gaffe into a heavy depression.

He was ordered backmost to enactment 8 days later, but helium ne'er made it. In his car connected the George Washington Parkway connected the mode to his shift, helium changeable himself with his work weapon, becoming the 2nd serviceman to instrumentality his ain beingness successful the aftermath of the riot.

On Friday, his widow, Erin Smith, volition petition the District of Columbia Retirement Board to designate her husband’s termination arsenic a decease successful the enactment of duty, a designation that comes with vastly greater fiscal benefits and, she says, much dignity. But the likelihood are decidedly against her.

Unlike successful the military, which commonly awards benefits to families of soldiers who instrumentality their ain lives, constabulary suicides are not considered line-of-duty deaths — successful fact, the instrumentality mostly forbids that designation. The families of officers who termination themselves accidental the rules correspond an outdated attack that recognizes the carnal dangers of policing but not the intelligence ones.

“When my hubby near for enactment that day, helium was the Jeff that I knew,” Ms. Smith said successful an interview. “When helium returned aft experiencing the event, being deed successful the head, helium was a wholly antithetic person. I bash judge if helium did not spell to enactment that day, helium would beryllium present and we would not beryllium having this conversation.”

The details of what Officer Smith, 35, encountered that time astatine the Capitol are not afloat known. The Police Department has declined to merchandise video from his assemblage camera, but helium told his woman and others that it had been the “craziest” happening helium had ever experienced, “like a movie.” A photograph shows him extracurricular the westbound broadside of the gathering successful a state mask, and helium aboriginal said that helium had been punched and deed successful the look shield with a flying metallic object.


Credit...via Erin Smith

He kept working, helium aboriginal told friends and family, but helium was rattled. Assigned to defender a edifice aft the riot, helium protested erstwhile helium was told to region his helmet, saying helium had already been deed once.

A sergeant sent him to the Police and Fire Clinic, which handles job-related injuries, wherever helium was prescribed ibuprofen and sent home.

Congressional representatives for Officer Smith and the different serviceman who killed himself aft the Jan. 6 events, Howard S. Liebengood of the Capitol Police, said they judge the deaths should beryllium considered job-related. Officer Liebengood’s widow, Serena Liebengood, wrote successful an unfastened missive to Representative Jennifer Wexton of Virginia that the Capitol Police indispensable amended its intelligence wellness attraction and that “the intelligence and affectional well-being of these officers tin nary longer beryllium overlooked oregon taken for granted.”

Officer Liebengood had to enactment lengthy shifts for the adjacent 3 days aft the Jan. 6 riot, his woman said successful her letter, and became “severely sleep-deprived.” After the 3rd shift, she said, helium returned location and killed himself.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who named some officers successful her measure to assistance the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who responded connected Jan. 6, said done a spokesperson that the issues raised by Officer Leibengood’s widow were “well-founded” and urged the Justice Department to o.k. line-of-duty benefits successful the case. If they bash not, she said, Congress would look for ways to alteration the law.

Some states person a presumption that definite carnal ailments are job-related. In Florida, bosom attacks are assumed to beryllium line-of-duty due to the fact that of the accent of the occupation — careless of however galore cheeseburgers an serviceman eats, said Jeff McGill, a constabulary trainer and co-founder of BLUE H.E.L.P., a termination prevention radical that tracks serviceman suicides. “If we’re going to presume that the occupation affects the heart, past wherefore are we not assuming that the occupation affects the brain?”

In affectional and sometimes tearful testimony astatine a legislature proceeding this week, officers who defended the Capitol described being insulted, stunned with Tasers, sprayed with chemic agents, and beaten with their ain batons.


Credit...Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

The distress they described was not lone physical, and it did not extremity that time — they said they were inactive dealing with trauma, anxiousness and survivor’s guilt, and they pleaded with chap officers to instrumentality vantage of the counseling that was available.

Long a taboo taxable for officers, the intelligence accent of policing has been progressively openly addressed, and has taken connected urgency arsenic departments conflict to stem a flood of retirements and enlistee caller officers. Experts estimation that officers person a 50 percent greater hazard of termination than the wide population, successful portion due to the fact that of their predominant vulnerability to trauma. And portion determination is nary authoritative count, researchers person recovered that much constabulary officers termination themselves each twelvemonth than are killed connected the job.

But portion the subject treats more than 90 percent of suicides arsenic line-of-duty deaths, constabulary departments bash the opposite. By law, a national payment of $370,000 awarded to the families of fallen constabulary officers and firefighters cannot beryllium granted for immoderate decease “caused by the officer’s intention.”

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department said metropolis statutes see a akin prohibition, and that determination was nary known lawsuit successful the section of a termination being deemed line-of-duty.

The spouses of M.P.D. officers who dice successful the enactment of work are entitled to proceed receiving 100 percent of their wage and a lump-sum outgo of $50,000, arsenic opposed to 33 percent of their wage for different types of deaths, Mr. Weber, the lawyer, said.


Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Officer Smith had nary “intention” of causing his ain decease — rather, it was the trauma of Jan. 6 that caused the slump that led to his suicide, said David P. Weber, a lawyer who represents Ms. Smith.

He had nary past of slump oregon intelligence wellness issues earlier Jan. 6, according to a study by a psychiatrist, Patrick J. Sheehan, an adept connected constabulary and firefighter workers’ compensation cases who was hired by Mr. Weber to behaviour a forensic evaluation.

Friends and household described Officer Smith arsenic an even-keeled idiosyncratic who doted connected his 90-pound dog, Mr. Bossman, and loved his patrol bushed adjacent the Washington Mall truthful overmuch that helium decided not to question a promotion for fearfulness helium would beryllium moved.

But things changed aft Jan. 6. Officer Smith became distant and uncharacteristically angry, his woman said. He stopped his regular calls to his parents successful Illinois, and expressed nary involvement successful walking the dog.

The “dramatic change” successful Officer Smith’s demeanor is beardown grounds that his deployment astatine the riot was the “precipitating lawsuit starring to his suicide,” concluded Jonathan Arden, the erstwhile main aesculapian examiner for the District of Columbia, who was hired to reappraisal autopsy and aesculapian records for Ms. Smith.

Officer Smith returned connected Jan. 15 to the session wherever helium had been treated for the caput wounded the erstwhile week, but helium was not asked astatine that clip whether helium was having suicidal oregon homicidal thoughts, and was cleared to instrumentality to work the adjacent day, Dr. Sheehan’s forensics study notes. Staff members astatine the session did not respond to requests for comment.

Suicide is often the effect of analyzable factors, and it is hard to definitively mention a precipitating cause. But experts connected constabulary termination said the Capitol riot would astir surely person been profoundly affecting for the officers connected the beforehand lines. The unit was unexpected and officers were overwhelmed. They whitethorn person felt a consciousness of nonaccomplishment due to the fact that the gathering was breached arsenic the satellite looked on, and each facet of the constabulary effect — from the deficiency of mentation to immoderate officers’ perceived coziness with the rioters — was the people of criticism.


Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Law enforcement leaders person not taken a nationalist presumption connected the question of decease benefits. The chiefs of some the Metropolitan and Capitol Police departments declined to comment, and national leaders for the 2 departments did not instrumentality aggregate calls.

Jim Pasco, the enforcement manager of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said that the national has been pushing for a alteration successful the instrumentality to let the national decease payment to beryllium awarded successful job-related suicides. “It is sometimes hard to straight necktie the termination oregon different calamity to the show of duty,” helium acknowledged, “but conscionable due to the fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bash it.”

If you are having thoughts of suicide, telephone the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline astatine 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You tin find a database of further resources astatine SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

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