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CHINCOTEAGUE, Virginia – Police officers from across the country arrived in Washington, DC, last week to honor those in their ranks who died in the line of duty. However, two officers who died shortly after battling rioters on Capitol Hill on January 6 are not among those honored.

Erin Smith, whose husband Jeffrey Smith committed suicide days after responding to the Capitol Riot, wants to change that.

“It would give her the recognition she deserves,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for January 6, he would still be here.”

Smith was a member of the DC Metropolitan Police. The other officer who is not honored, Howard Liebengood, was a member of the United States Capitol Police and also responded to the riot. He committed suicide on January 10. Because they committed suicide, their death is not recognized as being in the performance of their duties.

Watch an exclusive interview with Erin Smith on Sunday’s “Nightly News”.

The police suicide debate comes as the United States is in the midst of a nationwide policing math, fueled by the murder of black men at the hands of police officers. The discussion also led many to ask questions about the people behind the guns. Efforts to deal with and hold the police to account have come with advocates and police departments pushing for money to address mental health issues among the men in uniform.

The police reform bill that collapsed in the Senate last month reportedly included tens of millions of dollars for police departments across the country to meet growing mental health needs.

For families like the Smiths, help did not come soon enough.

Jeffrey Smith.Jack Reznicki

Erin and Jeffrey Smith married in 2019. She says he was loving, caring and a devoted friend. He left for work on January 6 assuming he would cover a mundane protest, which he often did as a police officer in downtown DC.

But shortly after starting her shift, she received a text that read ‘London is Falling’ which she said meant the Capitol had been passed.

She watched live coverage, checked Twitter and followed news alerts on her phone, looking for any signs that her husband was okay. But as he walked home that night, he was not doing well.

Jeffrey Smith has been shot in the head at least once. His body camera footage, shared with NBC News, shows he was attacked with his own baton. A federal lawsuit filed by Erin Smith accuses two men of beating him, but neither has been charged.

Before returning home on the day of the riot, Jeffrey Smith texted his wife to tell her he was going to the Fire and Police Health Clinic because he had been ‘hit’ . She said he was told to take ibuprofen and go home.

Immediately, Erin noticed a difference. Her husband, who had no history of depression or mental health issues, became irritable, distant, reclusive and angry.

“He kind of refused while lying in his bed. He didn’t want to do anything, sleepless nights pacing, but not himself normally, ”she said.

At his follow-up appointment eight days later, Erin Smith says, he was barely examined and ordered to return to work the next day.

She made his lunch, walked him to the car and kissed him goodbye. He never managed to work. He committed suicide before he got there.

Erin and Jeffrey Smith.Jack Reznicki

Police officers who die on duty from a gunshot, car accident, heart attack and even Covid are referred to as deaths “in the line of duty”. The award gives officers official burials and recognition on the National Police Memorial, and the surviving family gets benefits, including health insurance.

In his review, the DC Chief Medical Examiner said there was “a direct cause and effect relationship between the work-related trauma on January 6 and the death of Jeffrey Smith on January 15,” adding that Smith no. ‘had “no history of depression, mental health problems, or mental health treatment.

But suicide is not considered a death in the line of duty, although experts say many police suicides can be attributed directly to their work.

“First responders are subjected to stressful incidents more often than any other profession, with the possible exception of the military,” Steven Hough, co-founder of Blue HELP, an organization that provides mental health assistance to officers and follows the suicide of the police. He emphasizes that heart and lung injuries are treated as occupational injuries.

“How can you say that the mind is unaffected by work? Hough asked.

In most years, suicide matches or exceeds deaths in the line of duty. So far this year, 116 officers across the country have died by suicide. (Because Covid is classified as a death “in the line of duty”, those numbers have increased this year and last.)

Erin Smith asked the Police and Firefighters Retirement and Rescue Commission for distinction in the performance of their duties. They haven’t made a decision yet. Hough said official recognition by law enforcement that a suicide is a death in the line of duty is “rare and far-reaching.”

DC Metropolitan Police did not respond to NBC News inquiries.

Members of Congress join Erin’s fight. Some Democratic members of the Virginia congressional delegation sent a letter to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser urging him to provide death benefits in the line of duty.

“From a legal standpoint, Constable Smith’s symptoms were clearly the ‘single and direct result of a bodily injury’ since he had never experienced these symptoms until he was attacked on January 6,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and representatives Don Beyer. and Jennifer Wexton write in the letter obtained by NBC News. “He cannot have intended to cause his own death if he did not have control of his actions due to a severe head injury, nor can a person who suffers from a medical emergency in driving and who inadvertently crashes may not have intended to bring on their own death.

Kaine says the district should do the right thing, but he hasn’t ruled out legislation that would classify suicide as death in the line of duty.

“Of course, it’s work-related. And so even a ruling in those two cases that it’s a duty, death might tell other people who are facing, you know, their own unresolved emotions after January 6, that it’s not ‘doesn’t matter,’ Kaine said,

Erin said the designation would go a long way.

“Recognition,” she said, would say “that what they do is important not only to them and their heritage, but to their families – just to know that the police department is supporting them.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME at 741741, or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.


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