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U.S. Capitol Police "must be held accountable" says wife of officer who died by suicide

More than 300 charged so far in Capitol riot
More than 300 people charged so far in U.S. Capitol riot, with more arrests expected 06:37

The widow of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, who died by suicide days after he assisted with riot control at the Capitol during the January 6 attack, is calling for reforms to USCP in the wake of her husband's death.

In a letter sent to Virginia Representative Jennifer Wexton and obtained by CBS News, Serena Liebengood wrote that her husband was ordered to remain on duty "practically around the clock" for three days following the insurrection and "was severely sleep deprived" before his death on January 9.

"The Liebengood family wants Howie's death to not have been in vain," she wrote. She called on UCSP to designate her husband's death as "in the line of duty," and wrote "the UCSP must be held accountable for its actions and structural reforms instituted" to address the mental health of its officers.

At a congressional hearing last month, acting UCSP Chief Yogananda Pittman stated that Officer Brian Sicknick, who was injured during the Capitol assault and died on January 7, had died in the line of duty but would not acknowledge that Liebengood died in the line of duty because, she said, "it's still under investigation."

Serena Liebengood said Pittman's "reluctance…is a wrong which must be rectified."

"What must not be lost in all of this is my beloved husband died as the result his dedication to the USCP and the sacrifices he made to his well-being on January 6 and the ensuing days, just as assuredly as if he had been slain on the Capitol steps," she wrote. "Recognition of the cause of his death, much like the critical examination of the riot itself, will remain central to how we make right those tragedies and help avoid their repetition."

In a statement to CBS News early Thursday, Pittman said, "The USCP family continues to mourn the tragic and untimely death of Officer Howie Liebengood, whose family and friends I have prayed with and consoled. The Department has provided Howie's family with its much-deserved death gratuity payment. 

"While I want to support the Liebengood family to the maximum extent possible, Line of Duty Death declarations are given to officers who die while carrying out official law enforcement responsibilities. Even the deaths of the law enforcement officers who tragically took their own lives after the terrorist attack on September 11th were not considered Line of Duty Deaths.

"With a full understanding of and immense appreciation for the toll our profession can have on officers, the Department has always made mental health resources available to our workforce and significantly increased those resources in size and scope after January 6th. We will always appreciate Howie's dedication to our Department and Congress."

The statement did not address whether Liebengood had access to the significant resources in the days between Jan. 6 and Jan. 9. 

Following the January 6 attack, UCSP responded to "a couple of incidents" in which officers threatened to harm themselves. In one case, a female officer turned in her own weapon out of fear of what might happen.

"The situation has really demoralized the department. There's tremendous moral injury, a sense of failure weighing them down," one source said. "They went home to family and were asked, 'how did this happen?' And it's very easy for those officers to interpret that as 'how could you let this happen?'"

The Liebengood family has been an institution on Capitol Hill for nearly half a century. Howard Liebengood was first a Senate page and later a doorkeeper, before becoming a member of the Capitol Police, where he served for 15 years. His father, Howard S. Liebengood was a former Senate Sergeant at Arms whose responsibilities included oversight of the UCSP.

"There is no way to convey what our family is going through, as we struggle to simply function in our grief," Serena Liebengood wrote.

In a statement to CBS News, Wexton said, "We know that if not for the events of January 6, Officer Howie Liebengood would still be with us today. His death was a direct result of his defending the U.S. Capitol, an institution that he was devoted to and loved. I will continue to fight for proper recognition for Howie and his family."

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