Six minutes after Smith sent that text, a Capitol Police officer inside the building shot and killed a woman as she climbed through a smashed window next to the House chamber.
Smith, also inside the Capitol, didn’t hear the gunshot, but he did hear the frantic “shots fired” call over his police radio. He later told Erin he panicked, afraid rioters had opened fire on police, and wondered whether he would die.
Around 5:35 p.m., Smith was still fighting to defend the building when a metal pole thrown by rioters struck his helmet and face shield. After working into the night, he visited the police medical clinic, was put on sick leave and, according to his wife, was sent home with pain medication.
In the days that followed, Erin said, her husband seemed in constant pain, unable to turn his head. He did not leave the house, even to walk their dog. He refused to talk to other people or watch television. She sometimes woke during the night to find him sitting up in bed or pacing.
“He wasn’t the same Jeff that left on the sixth. . . . I just tried to comfort him and let him know that I loved him,” she said. “I told him I’d be there if he needed anything, that no matter what we’ll get through it. I tried to do the best I could.”
Smith returned to the police clinic for a follow-up appointment Jan. 14 and was ordered back to work, a decision his wife now questions. After a sleepless night, he set off the next afternoon for an overnight shift, taking the ham-and-turkey sandwiches, trail mix and cookies Erin had packed.
On his way to the District, Smith shot himself in the head.
Police found him in his Ford Mustang, which had rolled over and down an embankment along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, near a scenic overlook on the Potomac River.
He was the second police officer who had been at the riot to take his own life. . . .
Newly released audio from D.C. police at the riot shows how police were overwhelmed. “Multiple Capitol injuries, multiple Capitol injuries,” one officer screamed over his radio. Later an officer shouted, “We’re still taking rocks, bottles and pieces of flag and metal pole.” And an officer pleaded for help: “We lost the line. We’ve lost the line. All MPD [Metropolitan Police Department], pull back to the upper deck, ASAP” . . .
Hours after the siege at the Capitol had ended, Smith later told his wife, he found himself with other officers outside a hotel where insurgents were believed to be staying. Their orders were to arrest any who came outside, at that point breaking a citywide curfew imposed by the mayor to restore order.
At 9 p.m., he told two supervisors he was in pain from being hit by the pole, and he was sent to the Police & Fire Clinic in Northeast Washington, run by a contractor and the first step for nearly every officer injured on the job.
He checked in at the clinic at 10:15 p.m., according to records shared by his family.
On his police injury form, he wrote: “Hit with flying object in face shield and helmet.” He added that he “began feeling pain in my neck and face.”
He checked out 1:31 a.m. on Jan. 7, his status listed as “sick,” though no diagnosis is noted. Erin does not know if he told the staff about any emotional issues.
“He told me it was chaos,” she said of the clinic. “There were so many people there.”
Erin has questions about her husband’s care at the Police & Fire Clinic. She said he told her he was seen for only about 10 minutes when he returned Jan. 14 and was approved to return to work the following day.
She wonders whether there were indications of a serious head injury or signs of emotional distress, and she is seeking his complete medical file. Police officials would not comment on specifics of Smith’s visit, citing privacy laws. Representatives for PFC Associates, which runs the clinic, did not respond to an interview request.
Smith didn’t talk much about the details of what he experienced during his hours at the Capitol, Erin said. She didn’t press, but even from the little she learned, she thinks the images she saw on live stream did not fully capture what police experienced. Before the riot, the family’s lawyer said, Smith had not been diagnosed with or exhibited signs of depression.
Erin is convinced the trauma of Jan. 6 made the thought of returning to policing unbearable for him. . . .
Experts caution suicide is not typically due to a singular event, even a traumatic one, and precise reasons are generally rooted in a wide variety of factors that are often never fully understood. . . .
Smith’s family attorney said the officer did not attend any counseling sessions while he was on sick leave. He also said no one from the department reached out to Smith about attending. . . .