Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith was a police officer in Chicago for 29 years. She is now the spokesperson for the National Police Association and says cop suicide is a wide issue, with officers across the country reaching a ‘mental boiling point’ that far extends the January 6 riot
A veteran Chicago police officer and the spokesperson for the National Police Association has slammed the left for suggesting that the suicides of four cops who responded to the Capitol riot were a direct result of it, telling DailyMail.com we will ‘never know’ why they took their own lives so shouldn’t assume the reason to suit political bias.
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith was a police officer in Chicago for 29 years. She is now the spokesperson for the National Police Association, a lobbying group and charity which acts on behalf of police officers at every rank around the country.
She says she and other cops have become disgusted with how Democrats in Washington and ‘the media’ have deduced that Howard Liebengood, Jeffrey Smith, Gunther Hashida and Kyle Defreytag – four officers who responded to the riot and have since killed themselves – took their lives because of what happened on January 6.
Two of their widows – Serena Liebengood and Erin Smith – say the riot caused their suicides. None of the officers left suicide notes and none of their loved ones have said whether they told them they were suicidal because of the riot first.
Now, some of the families are fighting to have the deaths ruled as line of duty deaths. Nancy Pelosi and Democrat Jennifer Wexton is among the politicians fighting for the classification, which the families say would adequately honor the officers.
But Brantner Smith – who has advocated publicly about the mental health of cops and campaigns for greater support for them now through the Association – says there’s no direct proof that the riot caused the officers’ deaths, and that suicide, as a whole, is a common tragedy across all of America’s law enforcement.
‘We don’t know why these officers committed suicide. Police officers see horrible things every day from the minute they get out of the police academy. We don’t know why any police officer kills themselves unless they leave a detailed accounting of why they killed themselves and most do not.
‘To my knowledge, none of [these four] officers left any kind of detailed accounting of why. That’s why it’s important that we don’t assume, and we don’t politicize.
‘We will never know. That’s what law enforcement around the country is finding so distasteful about this… that one riot in one area, and suddenly police suicide is a big deal.
‘No one is talking about all the other cops who are killing themselves. The politicization of this topic is abhorrent.’
Howard Liebengood, 51, and Jeffrey Smith, 35, both worked for the US Capitol Police and served on January 6. Liebengood killed himself three days later and Smith took his life a week later. Their widows want their deaths to be ruled as in the line of duty and they say they’d still be alive if it weren’t for the riot. Neither officer left a note
Both Gunther Hashida, left, and Kyle Defreytag, right, had worked for the DC Metropolitan Police for years before the January 6 riot. They took their lives months after it, in July. Sgt. Brantner Smith says that in their roles as DC Metro officers, they will have encountered ‘lots of crime and depravity’ because DC is a high crime area. Their families haven’t said why they took their lives or if they would still be alive if it weren’t for the riot
The suicide rate among American police is higher than it is in the wider population; 13 out of every 100,000 people die by suicide in the general population, that number increases to 17 out of 100,000 among police officers.
Most police officers will see more trauma, more depravity in the first three years of their career than most people will see in their lifetime…The politicization of this topic is abhorrent.
In 2019, 200 officers killed themselves. In 2020, there were 173 police officer suicides and in 2021, there have already been 90.
Sgt. Brantner Smith says that while the events of January 6 were no doubt traumatic on the cops who were tasked with responding to it, no one can directly link what happened that day to their deaths.
Police officers in the US commit suicide about twice as often or sometimes a little more as we are killed by felonious assault. In other words, we kill ourselves at least twice as often as the bad guys kill us.
‘It’s been a problem for the last 20 years, it’s just now getting some additional attention,’ she said.
Two of the officers’ families have publicly attributed their suicides to the riots.
Serena Liebengood, the widow of 51-year-old Howard Liebengood – has asked that his death be officially ruled as in the line of duty, as has Erin Smith, the widow of 35-year-old Jeffrey Smith, who killed himself in his car, a week after the riot.
Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, going to battle with outnumbered cops. No cops were killed that day. Capitol officer Brian Sicknick later died from a series of strokes, and four cops who were there have since committed suicide but Brantner Smith says there is no proof the Capitol riot is why they took their lives
She told The Washington Post that he was depressed after the riot and did not recover from it.
COP SUICIDE VS IN THE WIDER PUBLIC
General population suicide rate
13 out of 100,000
Cop suicide rate
17 out of 100,000
Cop suicide figures
The family of Gunther Hashida, 43, have not given a reason for his suicide. He was found dead at home on July 29, nearly seven months after the riot and neither has the family of Kyle Defreytag, a DC cop who killed himself on July 10. Both Defreytag and Hashida worked for the DC Metropolitan Police Department and not the United States Capitol Police.
They responded to the Capitol on January 6 to help deal with the chaos but Brantner Smith says they will have been exposed to far greater trauma and depravity than what they saw that day in their routine beat.
Hashida had worked with DC Metro Police for 18 years and Defreytag worked on the force for five years.
‘Most police officers will see more trauma, more depravity in the first three years of their career than most people will see in their lifetime.
‘Those [DC Metropolitan Police] officers see lots of crime and depravity. Washington DC is a high crime, dangerous city. There’s lots of shootings and gang problems and all the other horrible things officers see. That’s a whole different situation than the Capitol Police.
‘Don’t forget that Metro PD officers had been dealing with George Floyd riots. Their boss – Muriel Bowser, the Mayor – she was very supportive of the BLM organization. She did not really allow her PD to engage those violent rioters.
‘You can go back from the day the George Floyd riots started and beyond, and watch videos of metro Washington DC police officers having water bottles thrown on them, being spit on, being called the N-word, being called filthy, nasty, racist things…having their families threatened. Those officers from that police department have been dealing with riots and demonstrations through all of 2020. Not just on January 6,’ she said.
‘We’re reaching a real boiling point with police officers’ mental health.’
The two other cops – Howard Liebengood and Jeffrey Smith – did work for the Capitol and their widows believe they would still be alive if it weren’t for what happened that day.
In an interview with The New York Times, she said he’d been hit in the head during the riot.
‘When my husband left for work that day, he was the Jeff that I knew. When he returned after experiencing the event, being hit in the head, he was a completely different person,’ she said.
Brantner Smith says she and other cops believe DC politicians like Nancy Pelosi are only paying so much attention to the plight of the Capitol cops because it suits their anti-Trump agenda. Pelosi is pictured with Officer Michael Fanone – who testified about his experience at the Capitol – on August 5 at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden to give gold medals to cops who responded to the riot
Howard Liebengood, 51, was the first officer to take his own life. It is unclear how. He had served the Capitol Police for 16 years.
‘Our family is still reeling from both his suicide and the tragic events of January 6 which caused his death,’ his widow Dr. Serena Liebengood said in a letter to Dr. Jennifer Wexton.
She is also asking for his suicide to be ruled as a line of duty death which the widows say would honor their service.
It would also give them higher compensation from the government, up to $400,000 from the federal government alone.
Howard Liebengood’s widow, Serena, has written to Rep. Jennifer Wexton to say she believes her husband would be alive if it weren’t for the riot. She and Jeffrey Smith’s widow, Erin, want their deaths to be ruled as in the line of duty. It would, they say, honor their service. Sgt. Brantner Smith says it would also give the families higher payouts from the governments
Sgt. Brantner Smith said that if their suicides are ruled as line of duty deaths, the lawmakers in DC who are calling for it now – like Nancy Pelosi and Wexton – must also consider all cop suicides as line of duty deaths.
‘I’m glad that now police suicide is in the forefront of the media but I wonder how long it’s going to last. I’d sure love to see a bipartisan group of politicians stand up and declare that they are going to commit unprecedented resources to police officers mental health around the nation not just in DC.
‘If they want to make this an issue, they can’t just make it an issue about January 6.
According to Brantner Smith, the mental health of police officers around the country is reaching a ‘boiling point’ after relentless ‘vilification’ by the public and the media in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and even before then.
‘When you look at the immediate aftermath of 9/11, everybody was thanking us for our service and buying us coffee, bringing cookies to the station. For a period of time there we were seen as heroes. But then when Barack Obama became president, the vilification of law enforcement started again.
‘There are prominent democrats only focusing on January 6 and those officers involved and prominent republicans who are saying nothing. They say they back the blue but they’re not doing a good job of it. Ultimately, I have to blame the American media.
‘The American media is not telling the truth about American law enforcement. The American media since Ferguson on, I’ve talked to the media every day, they have constantly vilified and lied about American law enforcement.
‘I can’t stress it enough, it is reaching a crisis point.’
She added that many officers feel they are being blamed for Floyd’s death, and that they now not only fear going to work and being killed, but being indicted for one wrong move.
‘People are just starting to realize that people try to kill us, are mean to us… these situations are not unique to the officers that responded to the January 6 riots. I had a beer yesterday with a cop who’d had his right eye shot out and he’s back on the job.
‘Bad things happen to cops,’ she said.
She added that she and others want the commission into the January 6 riot to be expanded to include all of the riots in 2020 too.
‘Talk to the federal law enforcement officers who night after night, were in the courthouse in Portland while ANTIFA set fire to it. Talk to the officer in Vegas who is paralyzed from being shot in the head by a Black Lives Matter protester. Talk to the police officers who had Molotov cocktails and bottles of urine thrown at them, and had people scream at them saying “I hope your kids get raped.”
‘If people are concerned about this, they need to see all of it not just January 6,’ she said.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential support to anyone who is experiencing a suicidal crisis. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.