Death of US Capitol Police officer by suicide qualifies for line of duty benefits, DOJ rules

The Justice Department has determined that the death of a US Capitol Police officer by suicide in the days following the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol occurred in the line of duty and qualifies for line-of-duty death benefits, the officer’s family said in a statement Monday.

Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood died by suicide on January 9, 2021. His widow, Serena Liebengood, had been calling for US Capitol Police to declare her husband’s death in the line of duty, in the days and months following the attack so that she could continue to receive health and financial benefits.

“We were recently notified that the Department of Justice officially determined our beloved family member U.S. Capitol Police Officer (USCP) Howie Liebengood’s passing was in the line of duty under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program. The determination is significant, healing, relieving, and we are grateful for it,” his family said in a statement.

Liebengood’s widow recounted in an open letter how he was ordered to remain on duty “practically around the clock” for three days after the Capitol attack, and how he was “severely sleep deprived” before his January 9 suicide.

“After assisting riot control at the Capitol on January 6th, USCP scheduled Howie to work lengthy shifts in the immediate days following. He was home for very few hours over the course of four days,” she wrote. “Although he was severely sleep-deprived, he remained on duty- as he was directed- practically around the clock from January 6th through the 9th. On the evening of the 9th, he took his life at our home.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office had urged the Justice Department to approve line of duty benefits in Liebengood’s case. A Pelosi spokesman said the issues raised by Officer Liebengood’s widow were “well-founded.” If they did not, she said, Congress would look for ways to change the law.

In addition to Liebengood, Metropolitan Police Department Officer Jeffrey Smith died by suicide in the days after the insurrection. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick also lost his life one day after responding to the insurrection. Officials say as many as 140 officers sustained injuries on January 6.

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