The Justice Department has ruled that a police officer who killed himself eight days after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol incursion died in the line of duty, thereby granting his wife federal benefits normally given to families of fallen officers.
Until now, families of officers who intentionally killed themselves have been barred from receiving such benefits.
But this new ruling, which follows President Joe Biden’s latest revisions to the Public Safety Officer Support Act, will allow certain suicides to qualify as a death in the line of duty.
The revised legislation passed almost exactly a year ago, expanded disability and education benefits, and now requires the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) to “presume” that suicides are a result of job duties, as long as there is evidence of a physical injury that could result in emotional trauma.
The new Public Safety Officer Support Act in the US will allow public safety officers to seek disability benefits for PTSD linked to severe trauma to designate work-related PTSD & acute stress disorders as a line of duty injury. It recognizes the emotional toll on 1st responders
— TJ Kennedy (@TJPublicSafety) September 17, 2022
Erin Smith, the widow of Metropolitan police officer Jeffrey Smith, was the first to be considered under the new law, her attorney told The Hill.
Officer Smith was one of many to serve at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. That day, he was involved in at least two altercations, according to NBC News.
In one incident, he was scuffling with protesters as he forced them out of the Capitol building. In another, he was struck in the face by a flying metal pole.
One of the men involved in the scuffle, David Walls-Kaufman, admitted to placing his hand on Smith’s baton during the incident. He was sentenced to two months in federal prison, according to NBC. Authorities have not yet identified the person who threw the metal pole.
Eight days after the Capitol incursion, on Jan. 15, Smith shot himself in his car while on his way to work.
As Smith had no recorded history of depression, according to the New York Times, his wife believes his injuries incurred at the Capitol “clearly caused his death.”
“When my husband died, I was denied the line of duty benefits that he deserved,” she told NBC in a statement. “But I knew from the beginning that Jeffrey died in the line of duty from the injuries he suffered on January 6th.”
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
The Justice Department’s ruling means she now qualifies for such federal benefits, including an award of $370,000, which is given to families of fallen officers.
“It is an honor to inform you that the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Office has approved your claim for death benefits,” Hope D. Janke, the director of the Justice Department’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Office, wrote in a letter to Erin Smith announcing their decision.
“The entire PSOB Office staff extends our condolences to you and your family, and our gratitude for Officer Smith’s public safety efforts and commitment to his community,” the letter read, according to NBC.
In addition, Erin Smith also receives 100 percent of her husband’s pension after the D.C. Police and Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Board decided last year that Smith’s death was in the line of duty.