- Capitol police officer Howard Liebengood, 51, died by suicide days after the Jan. 6 riots.
- The DOJ on Monday ruled his suicide is a line-of-duty death, the Washington Post reported.
- The designation, the first under a new law, allows death benefits to be paid to his family.
In the first successful claim under a new law designed to provide death benefits to survivors of fallen first responders, the suicide of a Capitol police officer has been classified as a line-of-duty death.
Days after the attack on the US Capitol, Officer Howard Liebengood, 51, died by suicide. The 15-year law enforcement veteran was one of four officers who took their own lives following the violent riots. President Joe Biden in August signed into law an expansion of the Public Safety Officer Support Act, allowing — for the first time — the surviving family members of officers who die by suicide after traumatic work events to claim death benefits and designate their loved one's deaths as line-of-duty.
The claim made by Liebengood's family is the first to be granted a line-of-duty designation under the law, the Washington Post reported. While it's unclear how much of a death benefit will be paid to the surviving family, the ruling marks a historic step in recognizing law enforcement suicide deaths as work-related.
"While no amount of money will bring Howie back to his family, their successful claim is an important step in acknowledging that law enforcement suicides are service-connected and should be seen for what they are — line of duty deaths," Patrick Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement. "Howie's family will always be part of our family."
Law enforcement officers have a high rate of suicide — the third highest by profession, according to the suicide prevention group Zero Attempts. Though suicide rates among officers have only just begun being tracked by federal agencies, an organization called Blue Help — which has tracked officer suicide for years — has found the rates are up more than 8% this year, with 148 known suicides so far in 2022.
Liebengood was described by friends as humble and reserved, the Washington Post reported shortly after his death, with a love of race car driving and a fierce commitment to defending the Capitol. His widow, Dr. Serena Liebengood, has been advocating for her husband's suicide to be classified as line-of-duty since shortly after his death.
"The determination is significant, healing, relieving, and we are grateful for it," Liebengood's family said in a statement. "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. We also hope that this helps other families who have felt the pain of losing a loved one to suicide."