The U.S. Department of Justice has designated the death of D.C. police officer Jeffrey Smith — who took his own life after helping defend the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot — as having occurred in the line of duty, granting his widow access to hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal benefits, according to the family’s attorney.
The Justice Department revealed the determination to the family Thursday. It did so under a law amended last year to make it easier for families of officers who die by suicide to access death benefits, marking a shift in how the government treats first responders who suffer mental health crises arising from what they encounter on the job.
“I could have given up. But I did not want any future widow, or widower, to ever go through what I went through in the aftermath of Jeffrey’s death,” said Erin Smith, Jeffrey Smith’s widow, in a statement. She spent years pressing local and federal officials to honor officers who die by suicide in the same way as any others who die in the line of duty.
The D.C. Police and Firefighters Retirement and Relief Board had already ruled Smith’s death as having occurred in the line of duty, which allowed Erin Smith to receive a full pension.
Her attorney, David Weber, said the federal decision means Erin Smith is now entitled to $370,000, as well as other educational benefits. A representative for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Weber called on the White House and Secretary of the Army to allow Smith to be inured next to U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who suffered two strokes and died a day after the Capitol Riot, at the Arlington National Cemetery. He also asked the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Board of Directors to add Smith’s name to the law enforcement memorial as a line-of-duty death.
“It is time to remove the stigma suffered by Mrs. Smith and all the future widows and widowers who have lost their loved ones to their law enforcement duties,” said Weber, who is also a forensics professor at Salisbury University, in a statement.
Representatives for the White House, Arlington National Cemetery and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday evening.
The Thursday ruling was at least the second time the Justice Department has granted line-of-duty designation to an officer who died by suicide after the Jan. 6 riot. Last year, the department gave such designation to Capitol police officer Howard Liebengood.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit 988lifeline.org or call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.