The widow of a D.C. law enforcement officer who took his own life just nine days after responding to the Capitol riot attack on Jan. 6 is fighting for change in regard to recognizing the mental and emotional trauma of officers who commit suicide.
Erin Smith, who was married to Jeff Smith, one of four officers to take his own life in the wake of the Capitol attack, claims her husband had no history of mental illness before returning home from work after the events of Jan. 6. Now, she is pushing for Congress to pass legislation that recognizes the on-duty trauma often suffered by law enforcement officers.
Widow speaks out about police officer suicides after January 6 U.S. Capitol attack
In @CBSNews exclusive interview, Erin Smith, widow of a D.C. police officer who died by suicide 9 days after responding to Jan. 6 attack at U.S. Capitol, is speaking out. https://t.co/AwTGumspmu pic.twitter.com/7JcI1M0Olp
— DC Cajun (@DCCajun) March 30, 2022
Before his sudden and rapid change in personality after responding to the Capitol riot, Smith said she would have described her husband as a “jokester.” She also told CBS’s Scott MacFarlane that her husband loved his career, even going as far as to say that it was his “calling.”
Erin Smith, the widow of a D.C. police officer who took his own life days after reporting to the Capitol on January 6, says “he was never the same” after the insurrection.
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) March 30, 2022
Body camera footage from Jeff Smith revealed that he arrived on scene just as one of the rioters, Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed while trying to breach a smashed window.
“They were in the hallway, and the first thing he could remember hearing were shots fired,” Smith recounted.
Four police officers took their lives following the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Erin Smith, a widow of one of those officers, told @macfarlanenews her husband had no history of mental health issues or depression before that day: “If he didn’t go to work that day, he’d still be here.” pic.twitter.com/JdkzJm4ZgU
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) March 30, 2022
When asked how her husband characterized the events of Jan 6., Smith said: “He characterized January 6 as the worst day of his life.”
Sadly, the loss of her husband was not the only struggle Erin Smith was forced to face in the months following the riot. As is the case in most jurisdictions, Washington D.C. did not consider her husband’s suicide to be a death in the line of duty. As such, when Jeff died, his wife lost most of the family’s income as well as her health insurance.
Within months of the insurrection, four officers on duty that day died by suicide—Erin Smith's husband Jeff included. That is no coincidence.
Erin and I agree: it’s time we pass my bill to treat law enforcement suicides as line-of-duty deaths.https://t.co/fjjfWi90B3
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) March 30, 2022
“I went to sleep, and then the next day his demeanor changed, and he was never the same,” she said. “He didn’t want to talk. He was pacing at night and during the day. Sleeplessness, the jokes stopped, the dancing around the house stopped.”
On the night of the attack, Jeff Smith went to the police medical clinic, reporting a blow to the head. Footage from his body cam shows the injury was sustained when a metal pole was thrown into the air and crashed down onto him. Notes reviewed by CBS News pertaining to a follow-up visit that happened a week later do not show that he was ever asked about his mental or emotional wellbeing.
My heart goes out to Erin Smith & all the families who lost loved ones & are still dealing with the traumatic stress of this horrific day.
— Jaime Harrison, DNC Chair (@harrisonjaime) March 30, 2022
“I think the physical attack on him changed him,” his widow said. “And if he didn’t go to work that day, he’d still be here.”
Body camera footage played a pivotal role in changing the designation of her husband’s death. The line-of-duty designation illuminates a practical significance for Smith, but it also shines a hopeful light on the legacy of her late husband, although it took more than a year for that agreement to be reached by D.C. When asked her thoughts about why it took so long for that conclusion to be reached, Smith said that death by suicide is stigmatized, and that it brings up many things that the police department doesn’t want to acknowledge.
— Dr. Stephen Grinstead – Life-Long Democrat – USMC (@drgrinstead) March 30, 2022
“With a suicide comes a stigma and something that the police apartment doesn’t want to face or recognize.”
When asked what she thought her late husband would have to say about her advocacy for legislation to recognize officers taking their own lives, Smith said: “I believe he would be proud of me right now. I’m fighting for my husband, but I’m also fighting for everyone else who has gone through this as well, and it deserves the recognition.”