Exclusive: Jeff Smith, the widow of a D.C. officer, has said that fighting rioters on Jan. 6, "changed" him.

A widow of a suicide victim officer responding to the attack on Capitol Hill Jan. 6, is urging Congress to pass legislation to recognize the trauma experienced by law enforcement officers who commit suicide.

Exclusive: Jeff Smith, the widow of a D.C. officer, has said that fighting rioters on Jan. 6, "changed" him.

She told CBS News that this would be a fitting tribute to her husband.

Within seven months of the attack, four officers who responded on January 6 committed suicide.

Erin Smith received an email earlier this month from Washington, D.C. containing the result for which she had been fighting for more than a whole year. The city had determined that her husband's suicide, nine days after Jan. 6, 2020, was due to injuries suffered in fighting the rioters. As such, his death was reported as having occurred in the line-of-duty .

In an exclusive interview, Smith said that "Honestly, it was unbelievable" to CBS News congressional correspondent Scott MacFarlane.

She believes the District initially resisted the line-of duty designation because of the stigma attached to suicide, which the police department does not want to confront or acknowledge.

Jeff's suicide was only the beginning of Erin’s grief. Washington, D.C., like most jurisdictions, didn't consider suicide to be a death in service. Erin lost much of her family's income and her health insurance when Jeff died. The city and the department did not send Erin a note or acknowledge her husband's efforts Jan. 6.

Erin stated, "It's hurtful. It's sad that they can not even reach out to one of their own widows." The D.C. Police Department, and the mayor's offices declined to comment.


 

CBS News obtained body camera footage that shows Jeff Smith being the victim of multiple assaults Jan. 6. At least one attack was inside the Capitol, and another occurred outside the Capitol's west front. Erin was able to use the images to help change the death designation for her husband. Erin petitioned D.C. for consideration of the possibility that Jeff suffered a brain injury in the attack. "I think the physical assault on him changed him," Erin said. He wouldn't be here if he hadn't gone to work that day.

The line-of duty designation Erin was able secure has both a symbolic and practical significance. Erin can claim financial benefits as well as ceremonial honors for husband Brian Sicknick. He died from fatal strokes Jan. 6, and Erin will see his name inscribed in the National Law Enforcement Memorial in D.C.

Senator John Cornyn (Republican of Texas) says he hopes Jeff's case will set a precedent for the three other officers who committed suicide after receiving Jan. 6's response.

Cornyn stated that it was a traumatizing event for everyone who was [at Capitol], but especially for law enforcement officers who were overwhelmed." "It's appropriate that law enforcement officers be covered."

Cornyn, along with Tammy Duckworth (Democrat of Illinois), introduced federal legislation to allow for line-of duty death benefits for police officers who take their own lives. Jeff is among more than 750 suicide victims of law enforcement officers across the country since 2017.

Duckworth stated, "The military has made this pivot understanding that an injury the brain, the psyche is just as important than an injury the body." Duckworth called Erin "a hero", for fighting for her husband’s line-of duty death designation.

Erin stated that her husband was a police officer and feels proud of the attention she brings to the issue.

Erin stated, "I am fighting for my husband, but I'm also fighting to support everyone who's been through this," It deserves to be recognized.

Fight against the mob

Officer Jeff Smith, a 12-year veteran of D.C. Metropolitan Police Department was unaware of what lay ahead when he and his unit of rioters raced to Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.

Erin said, "They were just told to get to the Capitol." She said it was probable that Jeff hadn’t been to Capitol since he was 10, and didn’t know how to navigate around. The Capitol Police, a federal agency, has jurisdiction over the building and grounds. Jeff's bodycam footage shows that he arrived at Capitol when Ashli Babbitt, a rioter, was killed trying to break into a window near the House of Representatives.

Erin stated that they were in the hallway and Erin heard the first thing he remembered hearing, "shots fired." CBS News reported that she hadn't yet been able to view the body camera video. She said that Jan. 6 was the most difficult day in his life.

Jeff returned to his home early in the morning after hours of fighting the mob. Erin said that Jeff was in a darkened mood and had a black eye.

She said, "I went to bed, and the next morning, his demeanor changed." He was different. He was reluctant to speak. He was constantly pacing during the day and night."

Erin stated that Jeff, before the attack, was a "jokester", who loved people as much as his dog. She also said that he was free from any mental or emotional disorders. Erin stated that after Jan. 6, his jokes and dancing around the house stopped. He even refused to walk the dog. She woke up one night to find him lying in bed crying, unconcerned.

She told CBS News that she tried to console her husband and tell him that everything would be alright. "I told him that I loved him and that whatever it is, we'll get through it."

Jeff reported that he had sustained a head injury during the attack on Jan. 6. CBS News reviewed the doctor's notes and found that he was given instructions to rest and take ibuprofen.

Jeff was seen by a doctor on January 14th. He advised him to continue taking Motrin for his physical pain but cleared him to go back to work. It is not clear from the notes if he was asked about his mental state.

Jeff Smith committed suicide on January 15, 2015. He was 35 years of age.

Fighting for her husband

Erin decided to challenge the D.C. government's decision to deny her line of duty benefits in the months following Jeff's passing. She and David Weber, her attorney, filed a formal petition to the Washington, DC Police and Firefighters Retirement and Relief Board in July.

Weber stated that it was clear from the beginning that this was not a normal suicide. "They didn't conduct the proper investigation we would expect of someone who has just experienced this traumatic event."

Weber stated that Erin was responsible for proving Jeff's death by pointing out two instances where Jeff's bodycam provided evidence.

The first took place in the Capitol halls, shortly after Babbitt was killed and shot. Weber claims the video shows a maroon-colored man wearing a motorcycle jacket, later identified as David Kaufman, a D.C.-based chiropractor. He allegedly took Jeff's baton. Kaufman has been sued for wrongful death by Erin. She claims the video shows Jeff being struck by the man, causing him to fall forwards.

Kaufman, through his attorney, denies that Jeff was struck.

Kaufman's attorney stated in a statement that "the civil suit is extremely unfortunate given that Dr. Kaufman didn't strike officer Smith at anytime as evidenced by every bit video that has been cited by the plaintiff [in lawsuit]]."

Hours later, the second incident occurs outside the Capitol. A metal pole was thrown from the crowd javelin-style, striking Jeff directly in his face. He is seen retreating to a staircase, where another officer asks him if he's injured.

Jeff replied to the officer, "Yeah most likely." "A f***ing pole, like a pole of metal went bam!" Right in my face."

They were able to prove that Jeff had suffered a brain injury that caused him to commit suicide nine days later using the video and Erin’s account.

Weber stated that Weber did not believe Weber had the mental capacity or intention to end his own life.

It appeared at first that the District was skeptical of her petition. The police responded to her December petition by writing that they "cannot reasonably opine" on whether Jeff's psychological or physical injuries caused his death.

The retirement board, which, just like the police department, is run by Washington, D.C., supported Erin in March, acknowledging that Jeff's death was in the line-of-duty.

The board sent a letter stating that they found that Officer Smith suffered a personal injury while carrying out his duties on January 6, 2021. This was the sole and only cause of his death.

Erin stated that she hopes federal prosecutors will charge Jeff's alleged accomplices, Kaufman included, as they have not yet been charged.

She stated, "This wasn’t just an attack against Jeff, it was an attack upon every police officer." Kaufman's attorney addressed the civil suit in the statement. He stated that "We anticipate Dr. Kaufman will not be exonerated once the facts, and not the baseless allegations, are revealed."

Erin hopes Jeff's case will inspire police departments to investigate suicides of officers.

Erin stated, "It shouldn’t be ignored, pushed to the side, or ignored." "These are human beings who gave their lives for law enforcement, no matter what way they died."


 

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