The widow of D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Smith, who took his own life shortly after the Capitol riots, is urging President Biden to help her fight a legal battle to rule her husband’s suicide a line-of-duty death.
Erin Smith and lawyer David Weber, along with other families of law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol during the January 6 riot, went to the Rose Garden to attend Biden’s signing of a measure to award the officers with Congressional Gold Medals. Smith and her attorney took the opportunity to urge Biden to do more to aid her cause.
Smith is petitioning the Police and Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Board to classify her husband’s suicide as a line-of-duty death so that she can obtain survivors’ health and financial benefits.
Weber said he addressed Biden during a brief encounter they had.
“I told him, it’s a good first step that you’re acknowledging Jeffrey Smith and Howard Liebengood’s sacrifice, but the gold medal is not enough,” Weber told CNN. “I asked the president, did you know that they took away their wives’ health insurance and I’m fighting to have Jeffrey Smith’s [suicide] ruled a line-of-duty death?”
Weber said that when he got the president’s attention and Smith explained her legal battle, Biden “grimaced” and then called for a “legislative aide.”
Immediately following the Oval Office photo op, Weber got a call from the aide telling him that the president was briefed on the issue but that there was no commitment as to whether he could help them.
Serena Liebengood — widow of Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood — is facing the same problem. Officer Liebengood took his own life three days after the riots, but his death is not seen as being in the line of duty. His widow wrote an open letter to Virginia Representative Jennifer Wexton appealing for her husband’s death to be declared line-of-duty.
According to CNN, Washington, D.C., law only permits a surviving spouse to receive benefits if an officer dies “in the performance of their duty” and if the mayor determines that their death was not caused by their own intention.
Smith explained in a CNN interview that her husband “became a different person” after the January 6 events.
“Because it’s not classified as ‘in line of duty,’ you don’t receive any of the benefits that a police officer’s family would receive if it was ‘in line of duty,’” she said. “The main thing is they’re not recognized. They’re not given the burial that they’re deserved. They’re not given the recognition they deserve. My husband, you know, was a police officer for D.C. for over 12 and a half years. He gave his life for D.C. and he should be given the same respect as anyone else that puts on the badge and goes to work every day,” Smith said.
Although there is no known case where a suicide has been declared a line-of-duty death, Weber argued that Officer Smith’s case is an exception. He said that because Smith was assaulted by the mob and hit on the head with a metal pole on January 6, and then shot himself just nine days later, it shows that the events of that day clearly left mental and emotional injuries.
Weber has enlisted two experts, as well as former D.C. chief medical examiner Jonathan Arden, to argue that the exact cause of his death was due to the traumatic events he suffered on in the line of duty during the riot.
For Smith’s case to succeed, it would require first a change to DC law or an exemption from the mayor.