Capitol Police officer’s widow presses Congress for 1/6 Commission
The widow of a Capitol Police officer who took his own life days after a mob stormed Congress and overwhelmed beleaguered officers says the agency’s failure to label her husband’s death as “in the line of duty” is a “wrong which must be rectified.”
In a letter to Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) — and circulated to colleagues by Wexton’s office — Serena Liebengood says her husband Howard’s death on Jan. 9 followed four days of nearly round-the-clock work following the attack on the Capitol.
“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,” Liebengood writes.
Liebengood lends her voice to those calling for a bipartisan commission to probe the origins of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the security failures that enabled rioters to violently overtake the Capitol that day. She is also calling the events “a unique and important opportunity to honor Howie” by pursuing structural reforms to the Capitol Police that focus on mental health.
“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,” she writes.
Howard Liebengood, a veteran Capitol Police officer whose father also spent a career working for the institution, was one of three officers who died following the Jan. 6 attack. Officer Brian Sicknick’s death, which came on Jan. 7, hours after he was assaulted by rioters wielding bear spray, has been treated as a “line of duty” death, according to Yogananda Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, though an investigation is still underway to determine his precise cause of death. Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Smith also took his own life in the days after the assault on the Capitol.
Wexton, who represents the Liebengood family in Congress, criticized Pittman during a hearing examining the Capitol Police leadership’s handling of the Jan. 6 riot. When she pressed Pittman on the agency’s decision not to immediately classify Liebengood’s death as “line of duty,” Pittman declined to provide details.
“I can’t speak to that at this time, ma’am,” Pittman said. “It’s still under active investigation.”
Serena Liebengood’s public outreach could be significant. The leaders of the 9/11 Commission following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington have long credited the advocacy of the victims’ families with spurring Congress to act and ensure a fulsome review of what transpired. That outside advocacy from victims of the Jan. 6 attack has largely been absent, but Liebengood said she intends to change that.
Liebengood says her family “is still reeling” from the loss of her husband and the events of Jan. 6 and intends to use this moment to push other lawmakers to pursue after-action measures like a 1/6 commission to fully understand what transpired.
“The Liebengood family wants Howie’s death to not have been in vain,” she writes. “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.”