The widow of a police officer who died by suicide in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot 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-of-duty death.
Erin Smith, who fought for more than a year to ensure that her husband Jeffrey Smith's suicide was ruled a line-of-duty death, said President Joe Biden should have held a signing ceremony when he enacted the legislation Tuesday.
“This bill is not only for my husband but for all law enforcement and first responder families that have been tossed to the side because no one believed that their family members death was Line of Duty and caused by their job,” Smith said in a statement to NBC News. “I am disappointed to know that this bill will not be receiving the attention it deserves.”
The White House said in a news release Tuesday that the Public Safety Officer Support Act had been signed into law, along with three other bills. 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 died by suicide just days after he was assaulted during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Erin Smith said Tuesday she had “gone 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 ruling, despite "overwhelming evidence," including testimony from the city's former chief medical examiner and the autopsy showing her husband's face was fractured from being beaten during the riot.
"Put quite literally, Jeffrey Smith’s actions on January 6th have changed the conversation forever of police mental health and how we care for our protectors in the aftermath," Weber said in a statement.
The new law expands on a benefits program for the family members of public safety officers and recognizes suicide as a line-of-duty death on the federal level. The expansion of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program will be administered by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy 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 died by suicide after Jan. 6, as well as the family of Shelane Gaydos of the Fairfax County Police Department, who died by suicide in 2018.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the Public Safety Officer Support Act in February.
“This will ensure public safety officers experiencing PTSD and families coping 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 enacting the bill is "a major win for law enforcement, first responders, and their families, including the families of those who protected the Capitol on January 6th."
Erin Smith has attended public hearings held by the House Jan. 6 committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol, saying she felt the need to represent her late husband and hoped he would be remembered as “part of a group of men and women that went in there not knowing what they were going to face," who did their jobs and "saved democracy on Jan. 6."
Bodycam video shared with NBC News showed that Jeffrey Smith was shaken up after a tussle 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 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 a number of crimes. He was not charged with assaulting Smith.
CORRECTION (Aug. 18, 2022, 12:54 a.m. ET): A photo caption in a previous version of this article misstated the department Jeffrey Smith worked for. He was a Metropolitan Police Department officer, not a U.S. Capitol Police officer.