Nov 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Capitol Police officer's suicide after Jan. 6 ruled a line-of-duty death

A memorial to Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood is displayed in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19, 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Officer Howard Liebengood's suicide three days after the Jan. 6 insurrection was ruled a line-of-duty death on Monday.

The big picture: The decision by the Justice Department’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program ensures that Liebengood's family will be able to receive the health and financial benefits typically distributed to relatives of federal law enforcement who are killed in the line of fire.

  • It also has larger implications for the profession, which has remained reluctant to link suicide to on-duty work due to stigma.
  • Liebengood was one of several officers who died by suicide in the months following the Capitol riots, where pro-Trump supporters' assault led to a slew of injuries among on-duty law enforcement.
  • He was patrolling the grounds on the Senate side when rioters breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, the Washington Post reports.
  • Though he did not physically engage rioters, he assisted in riot control and was ordered to remain on duty "practically around the clock" for three days after the attack, according to his widow.

What they're saying: "The determination is significant, healing, relieving, and we are grateful for it," the Liebengood family said in a statement through the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

  • "We hope the changes to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program, which allowed Howie to receive this designation, will serve as a model for other entities that offer similar benefits and recognition."
  • "This is an important step in a longer effort to change outdated processes and attitudes," the statement added. "We also hope that this helps other families who have felt the pain of losing a loved one to suicide."
  • "We look forward to continuing to reduce the stigma around mental health and suicide for public safety officers — who make sacrifices for us all."

USCP supports the decision, a spokesperson said in a statement. "Suicide has become an epidemic in the law enforcement profession. We will continue to work with the Liebengood family to address this important issue."

Worth noting: This is the first claim awarded under the Public Safety Officer Support Act signed into law in August, according to the FOP.

  • The measure was intended to expand access to benefits for family members of police officers who suffer PTSD or acute stress while on duty.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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