The widow of a police officer who killed himself in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots said this week that the White House should have done more to draw public attention to a newly signed law that for the first time recognizes suicide as a line. death in service
Erin Smith, who fought for more than a year to make sure her husband Jeffrey Smith’s suicide was considered a death in the line of duty, said President Joe Biden should have held a signing ceremony when he enact the legislation on Tuesday.
“This bill is not only for my husband, but for all the families of law enforcement and first responders who have been left out because no one believed that the death of their family members was the fulfillment of their duty. duty and the cause of their employment,” Smith said in a statement. on NBC News. “I am disappointed to learn that this bill will not receive the attention it deserves.”
The White House said in a press release Tuesday that the Public Safety Officer Support Act had been signed into law, along with three other bills. On the same day, there was a signing ceremony for the Inflation Reduction Act.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jeffrey Smith committed suicide just days after being attacked during the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Erin Smith said Tuesday that she had “been through hell and back” advocating for Washington, D.C. and the Metropolitan Police Department to declare that her husband died in the line of duty. In March, a police board found that the officer’s death made Smith eligible for enhanced survivor benefits.
Smith’s attorney, David P. Weber, said Smith had fought for more than a year for the sentence, despite “overwhelming evidence,” including testimony from the city’s former chief medical examiner and the ‘autopsy showing that her husband’s face was fractured from the beating during the riot.
“You can literally say, Jeffrey Smith’s actions on Jan. 6 have forever changed the conversation about police mental health and how we care for our protectors afterward,” Weber said in a statement.
The new law expands a benefits program for family members of public safety officers and recognizes suicide as a line-of-duty death at the federal level. The expansion of the Public Safety Officer Benefits Program will be administered by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Assistance.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta met with Erin Smith earlier this month along with the widow of Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, who took his own life after January 6, as well as Shelane’s family. Gaydos of the Fairfax County Police Department, who committed suicide in 2018.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the Support for Public Safety Officers Act in February.
“This will ensure that public safety officers suffering from PTSD and families dealing with the tragic loss of a loved one to suicide can get the support they deserve,” Cornyn said in a statement at the time.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., whose congressional district is home to Erin Smith, said the bill’s enactment is “a major victory for law enforcement, first responders and their families, including the families of those who protected the Capitol on Jan. 6th.”
Erin Smith has attended public hearings held by the House committee on January 6th investigating the attack on the US Capitol, saying that she felt the need to represent her late husband and hoped that he would be remembered as “part of a group of men and women who went in there not knowing what they were up against,” who did their job and “saved democracy on January 6.”
Body camera video shared with NBC News showed Jeffrey Smith being shaken after a scuffle with rioters inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 when rioters grabbed his baton. He was later hit in the head outside the building when a rioter threw a metal pole at the police.
A federal lawsuit filed by Erin Smith accuses two men of assaulting Jeffrey Smith inside the Capitol. One of the men, Washington chiropractor David Walls-Kaufman, was arrested in June and charged with several crimes. He was not charged with assaulting Smith.
CORRECTION (August 18, 2022, 12:54 PM ET): A photo caption in an earlier version of this article misstated the department Jeffrey Smith worked for. He was an officer of the Metropolitan Police Department, not an officer of the United States Capitol Police.