Months after her husband fought the crowd of insurgents at the U.S. Capitol, Serena Liebengood MD, MHSA, fights for her husband’s suicide to be recognized as a line-of-duty death. Howard Liebengood, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) department, took his life three days after the Capitol breach in which approximately 140 police officers were wounded.
In a letter to Representative Jennifer Wexton (D-Virginia), Liebengood explained to her Congresswoman that the days immediately following the riot were as traumatic and detrimental to her husband’s mental health as was the event on January 6.
“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.”
“Her (USCP Chief Yogananda Pittman) reluctance to designate his January 9 suicide as being ‘in the line of duty’ is a wrong which must be rectified,” she added. “What must not be lost in all of this is that my beloved husband died as the result of his dedication to the USCP and the sacrifices he made to his well-being on January 6th and the ensuing days, just as assuredly as if he had been slain on the Capitol steps.”
Wexton shared the letter with her colleagues and the press at the behest of Liebengood. She also questioned Pittman regarding classification of the officer’s death during a Congressional hearing in February.
“While I want to support the Liebengood family to the maximum extent possible, line of duty death declarations are given to officers who die while carrying out official law enforcement responsibilities,” Pittman said in the statement, reported CNN. “Even the deaths of the law enforcement officers who tragically took their own lives after the terrorist attack on September 11th were not considered line of duty deaths.”
During the hearing, the chief refused further explanation on the designation, stating she couldn’t comment on ongoing investigations.
However, both Liebengood and Wexton wish to spotlight the mental health cost such incidents can wage upon law enforcement.
“This is more about the principle of their understanding that PTSD and the tragedy that went along with the events of January 6 is real. And that the stigma that follows police officers around after this, and then the reluctance to seek help, is also real,” Wexton told CNN.
“The Liebengood family wants Howie’s death to not have been in vain,” the letter explains. “Recognition of the cause of his death, much like the critical examination of the riot itself, will remain central to how we make right those tragedies and help avoid their repetition. …The USCP must be held accountable for its actions and structural reforms instituted; and the mental and emotional well-being of these officers can no longer be overlooked or taken for granted.
“Two months after his passing, our family remains convinced we have a unique and important opportunity to honor Howie; to support much needed USCP reforms; and to promote positive change around mental health issues for his fellow law enforcement officers, both with the Capitol Police and with law enforcement agencies generally,” Liebengood also wrote. “To accomplish these goals, his death must be designated as being ‘in the line of duty.’”
Metropolitan Police Department Officer Jeffery Smith also took his life in the wake of the riot while USCP Officer Brian Sicknick died the day after as a result of his injuries, which allegedly included being maced with bear spray. Two individuals have been arrested related to the attack.
Read Liebengood’s letter in full at Fox17.com here.