A D.C. Police officer who took his own life days after sustaining an injury while working at the Capitol on January 6 has been recognized by the District of Columbia as dying in the line of duty.
Washington's Police and Firefighters' Retirement and Relief Board ruled Monday that an injury Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Smith sustained on January 6 "was the sole and direct cause his death," according to a letter obtained by CBS News.
CNN was first to report Smith's death had been ruled a line-of-duty death.
The ruling by the District of Columbia comes after a yearlong fight by his widow, Erin Smith, to reverse an earlier decision denying an official recognition that her husband's death was "in the line of duty". The distinction also allows Erin Smith to collect enhanced benefits. The designation also bestows certain honors on Smith, as the names of officers who die in the line of duty are etched on memorial walls and are remembered in annual ceremonies.
"Officer Jeffrey Smith would still be alive today if he hadn't risked his life to defend all of us at the U.S. Capitol and our democracy itself on January 6," Rep. Don Beyer said in a statement. Beyer, a Democrat, represents the Virginia district where Smith lived.
Smith was one ofwho took their own lives after responding to the January 6 attack. Police departments have in the past been reluctant to grant the distinction to officers who die by suicide.
"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," Beyer added.
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine also welcomed the reversal. "I'm so relieved that following our push for it, Virginian Officer Jeffrey Smith will receive the official officer's line-of-duty death designation, entitling his wife to full benefits. We will forever be grateful for his service to protect our Capitol," he said in a statement.
The family of Howie Liebengood, a Capitol Police officer who also took his own life days after the attack, is also applying for the distinction through the federal government.
"We are pleased to see The Police and Firefighters' Retirement and Relief Board's decision declaring Officer Jeffrey Smith's death in the 'line-of-duty' and we hope it brings his family some much-needed healing," Liebengood's family said. "We believe Howie's suicide was a result of his official duties during January 6th and in the ensuing days. As such, his death should also be considered 'in the line of duty.'" The Capitol Police has so far not recognized Liebengood's death as having occurred in the line of duty, but his family said it is "hopeful" that USCP will reconsider.
Officers Gunther Hashida and Kyle DeFreytag also both died by suicide in July after responding to the Capitol on January 6, MPD announced in August.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email email@example.com.
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