Police Widow Erin Smith on the January 6 Attack (full NBC transcript)

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Submitted to VT by NBC News

NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent Leigh Ann Caldwell sat down with Erin Smith, the widow of D.C. Metropolitan Police officer Jeffrey Smith who took his own life after fighting on the frontlines during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. This is Smith’s first broadcast network television interview.

See below for extended text highlights and rush transcript of the interview available for use now with no embargo. Note: Transcript excerpts have been condensed, are not in final form and may change.

The exclusive interview airs Sunday night on Weekend Nightly News at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.

Please Credit: Weekend Nightly News / NBC News’ Leigh Ann Caldwell

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS:

Erin Smith says her husband Jeffrey was a different person after January 6: “He got more distant. He got angry. He was very short tempered. And he was not himself”

Erin Smith: As the day went on he got more distant. He got angry. He was very short tempered. And she was not himself. He wasn’t really interested in doing anything, going anywhere, taking the dog for a walk. He just kind of kept to himself. And, you know, I tried to be there for him. I told him whatever he needed. I was there, but obviously he had just gone through a very traumatic situation.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: How you described him, short tempered, distance, that is out of character?

Erin Smith: Very out of character. Jeff was a fun guy. He was always dancing around the house, making jokes, kind of an uplifting person that would keep you smiling and laughing.

Erin says Jeff should be recognized for a line of duty death, “If it wasn’t for January 6, he would still be here”

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What do you need now? What do you want from the Metropolitan Police Department, the Mayor, the clinic, what would help?

Erin Smith: I believe that the Metropolitan Police Department and the mayor in the city of DC should recognize Jeff’s death as line of duty, so that he is given the recognition that he deserves. If it wasn’t for January 6, he would still be here.

She adds, a line of duty classification “would give him the recognition that he’s due”

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And what would a line of duty classification, how would that help?

Erin Smith: It would give him the recognition that he’s due. that the reason he died is because of that day. It would also just show that nationally with police and suicides that majority of them are caused by the work that they experience, and the military has gone on to recognize these types of deaths as basically line of duty deaths. And unfortunately, the people that protect us every day, have not been given the same rights.

Erin says her husband needed more support after January 6, “the police and fire clinic failed him”

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Looking back, what did he need more support, did he need more help?

Erin Smith: I do believe he did. I also believe that the police and fire clinic failed him. They did not do a CT scan, they did not do an MRI, they did not fully check him out to see exactly what happened, or where he was hit. And if it did cause any damage. So I don’t think there was a thorough review of him or his injuries

Erin Smith: I don’t believe he should have gotten to work that day. I think everyone who was involved in the Capitol riot should have been evaluated from a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, they should have at least met with someone and talked about what they went through and what they saw, before returning to work to make sure that they were all stable.

RUSH FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Erin, thanks so much for sitting down with us today. Really appreciate it. First, can you tell me a little bit about Jeffrey?

Erin Smith: Jeff was a great person. He was loving. He was caring, it was a good friend, and he was always there for everyone, whether you knew him or not, even sometimes just coming home from work, he would stop on the GW Parkway and help someone who had a flat tire. He was just a genuine human being who loved America, we always had to have a flag hanging outside of that house. And he was just a really good person.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: How did you guys meet?

Erin Smith: We met online. And we started talking and then we met and we stood in the parking lot of a restaurant for two hours after we met, and I just knew he was special. And then from the rest is history from that.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And you guys, got married, settled down?

Erin Smith: Yeah, so we got married in February of 2019. And, you know, sort of, we’re going down the path of probably having a family and going through the next steps of life.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Where did you get married?

Erin Smith: We got married in Hilton Head.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Wonderful. So tell me a little bit about the morning of January six. Was that any different than any other morning before Jeff would head out the door and go to work?

Erin Smith: So we knew there was a lot of talk around January 6, but it was expected to be a regular day. He was assigned to a civil disturbance unit. He was expected to be downtown. But we figured it would be just like a regular day, they would be there just in case, but nothing was going to happen. In fact as lunch sent him on to work. And then, obviously, that afternoon, everything changed.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Before we get there, I want to talk about – what was – outside of January 6 When he normally went to work, what was his day like what part of towns did he was he on the streets a lot. What was his job?

Erin Smith: So he was assigned to the second district, which runs from downtown, up to, Chevy Chase. And he basically for the most part was downtown – had Georgetown. And this last time he had like City Center. So he was downtown with the tourists and the businessmen, and the citizens of DC.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And has he had to work a lot of protests over the years?

Erin Smith: Yes. So as a DC police officer, you’re sort of guaranteed to be in everything, um, whether it’s a race, a protest, or just a street fair. Anytime that the police are needed. You know, they’re basically assigned to go to these things

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So as a DC police officer he’s used to protests and covering protests as part of the job?

Erin Smith: Yes.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And did he think that that would be perhaps what January 6 was going to be like?

Erin Smith: He thought it would just be a regular protest, nothing intense, nothing insane. You know, they thought all these people that were coming were pro-police and you know they would just say hello and they would pass by and that would be it.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So he didn’t have any particular concerns or worries when he left for work that day?

Erin Smith: No.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And then, as the day progressed, he was deployed to the Capitol?

 

Erin Smith: Yes.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And what, how did you find out about that?

Erin Smith: Obviously, I was receiving alerts on my phone so I knew something was going on, and the text that I received from him was London Has Fallen.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What did that mean you think?

Erin Smith: It was in reference to the movie that the Capitol had been taken over.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What was your response to that, what did you text back or what did you think?

Erin Smith: I just said I love you and be safe. What else do you really say?. I basically let work know that I needed to go see what was going on. I kind of took a break from my duties at work. And went I just kind of tried to follow what was taking pLeigh Ann Caldwell:e on live leads on Twitter or whatever I could find on the news, just to understand what was actually happening,

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Did you turn the TV on?

Erin Smith: I did.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Were you looking for him?

Erin Smith: Obviously I was looking for him. But I’m sure as everyone knows it’s very hard to point out a person when they’re all dressed the same, wearing the same and it’s just chaotic.

I did, I turned the TV on. I went and looked for him, whether it was on the live feed or on the news, just to see if I could find Him or know exactly where it was, but everyone’s dressed the same we’re in the same thing so it’s very difficult to pinpoint a person and chaotic situation.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And what time was he actually sent to the Capitol? l I was, I was there that day, I cover Congress. And so, at what point was he deployed there?

Erin Smith: Right after roll call.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So around like three o’clock in the afternoon?

Erin Smith: I don’t remember the exact time that he went in I think it was around two o’clock.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And was he communicating with you?

Erin Smith: Um, the only text really that I received was that London had fallen and that the Capitol had been taken over. After that the texts were kind of sporadic, I wasn’t sure if mine were going through or if he was even texting me and they were coming through until later that evening.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And so we, you didn’t have any idea of what was happening to him specifically in those intervening hours that’s correct, and then tell me about the first time you heard from him again?

Erin Smith: So he let me know that he was okay. And then later on that day, he let me know that he was going to the clinic that he had been hit. And of course at that point I was extremely worried, but happy that he was going to be checked out.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And he had been hit. Did you know what that meant?

Erin Smith: At that time no.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And what clinic was he going to?

Erin Smith: The police and fire clinic. So anyone that’s injured on the job, they are sent to the police are…

[PAUSE INTV – LOUD NOISES IN BACKGROUND]

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So tell me the moment that you knew that he was being deployed to the Capitol.

Erin Smith: So I found out that he was sent to the Capitol when he texted me that London had fallen, which was basically saying that the Capitol had been taken over. At that point, I tried to continue working. And it was just a distraction, I couldn’t stop thinking about him being there, so I kind of signed off for the day, tried to figure out what was going on, whether it was on a Twitter live feed or on the news, and just um, you know, understand what he was going through.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And were you, what were you doing during that time? Did you turn on your television?

Erin Smith: I did, I turned on the TV, I had my phone with me, and I just, you know, sat there hoping that he would be okay.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Were you looking for him in the footage, trying to find him to make sure he was okay?

Erin Smith: I was. Obviously, you know you’re always looking for your significant other during an event like this. However, everyone was basically dressed the same, looked the same, and it was very chaotic so it was hard to point out anyone.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: When was the first time you heard from him? After that text message where he told you London was falling.

Erin Smith: So he sent me a text and just told me that he was okay. And I was happy to hear that. And then as the evening went on he sent me another text, letting me know that he was going to the police and fire clinic.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What did that mean to you?

Erin Smith: I didn’t know at the time. He just said he was hit, and that he needed to go. Everyone who was injured, went to the police and fire clinic that night as long as they were an MPD police officer.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And so he told you he was hit, but you had no other details. So were you worried then?

Erin Smith: I was worried but he said he was fine. Obviously he didn’t want me to worry.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And so when after that, did he leave the fire clinic, fire or police clinic with a clean bill of health? Did they tell him to go home and rest? What happened there?

Erin Smith: So he was there for a while, he got sent home at about two in the morning. And they sent him home with a prescription for ibuprofen and at his discharge they told him he needed to come back in three days, when he went to make an appointment to come back in three days, There wasn’t one, so they extended it out until the 14th. On the 14th he returned, and they said that he could go back to work on the 15th.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So when he came, he got home at three in the morning that night?

Erin Smith: Yeah, two, three in the morning.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And were you awake. Did you talk to him?

Erin Smith: So when he got home he just explained, kind of what had gone on, that it was an intense scene. It was crazy. It was chaotic, it was, you know, hand to hand combat. It was the craziest experience he had gone through as an MPD officer.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And were you worried at that point?

Erin Smith: I was worried but I was exhausted, and he was home, and that was the most important thing.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And he went to bed?

Erin Smith: He stayed up and I went to bed.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So, did you see him the next morning, when you woke up or did you go to work?

 

Erin Smith: So I was working out of the house. So, when he woke up, you know, I came back upstairs and we talked and I noticed that his eye was kind of black and blue looking and he told me not to worry about it. It didn’t look right. But I wasn’t going to press on, he had just gone through a traumatic experience and I didn’t want him to be overwhelmed again.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Did he give you any more details. Did he seem any different?

Erin Smith: As the day went on he got more distant. He got angry. He was very short tempered. And she was not himself. He wasn’t really interested in doing anything, going anywhere, taking the dog for a walk. He just kind of kept to himself. And, you know, I tried to be there for him. I told him whatever he needed. I was there, but obviously he had just gone through a very traumatic situation and

Leigh Ann Caldwell: How you described him, short tempered, distance, that is out of character?

Erin Smith: Very out of character. Jeff was a fun guy. He was always dancing around the house, making jokes, kind of an uplifting person that would keep you smiling and laughing.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And you didn’t see that after January sixth?

Erin Smith: I didn’t.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Did he get any better as the several days went on?

Erin Smith: No, it just kind of, he kind of declined as he was laying in bed. He didn’t want to do anything, sleepless nights up pacing around, Just not his normal self.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And he, so he stayed in bed, he didn’t take the dog out for a walk. He became very recluse. And what did you think at that point were you starting to get more worried?

Erin Smith: I was extremely worried the entire time. But he told me he would be okay, and I just kept saying I’m here for you wherever you need. I love you. You know, we’re going to get through this, whatever it is. And then, back to work.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Sorry, what was work telling him through at this time because he was home, were they telling him to stay home, was he taking leave? Can you talk about his relationship with work at this moment?

Erin Smith: So he wasn’t on his phone much while he was home. As far as I know work did not contact him while he was on leave, and from my understanding, I believe it’s just sick leave when they send you out, but no one had contacted him, he just knew he had to go to the clinic on the 14th.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And so he was waiting for that day for the 14th. And did he complain of any sort of physical pain during this time?

Erin Smith: So he continued to say he was in pain and in his neck and in his head. But you know I just encouraged him to take Tylenol or Advil or you know something to help with the pain and I told him, you know, it would eventually stop and it would, you know he would be okay.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And was it like a headache? Did he specify if it was like a headache was it achy throbbing?

Erin Smith: He just said his head and neck hurt.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Combined that with the fact that he didn’t really want to get out of bed.

Erin Smith: He didn’t want to get out of bed, and I don’t think he really wanted to talk about what he saw. Whether he wanted to protect me, or just didn’t want to discuss it.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So he went back to the clinic for his appointment on the 14th?

Erin Smith: Yes, so he went to the clinic on the 14th. He went in and came out and he said it was the fastest appointment he’s ever had at the clinic, he said he was in and out in 10 minutes.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: This was eight days after January 6?

Erin Smith: Yes.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And what did they tell him that he was clear to come back to work?

Erin Smith: He was cleared to go back to work. He assumed he would go back that night, and they said he could return on the 15th.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And did he, was he worried about that. Did he disagree with it? Was he angry that he had to go back to work?

Erin Smith: He didn’t want to go back, he was still in pain but they basically ordered him to go back to work.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: After that appointment, is he, was he more stressed out, was he more down, more distant?

Erin Smith: He came home and he just laid down and didn’t really say anything or do anything. And then he went to work the next day.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Tell me about that morning, the morning of the 15th.

Erin Smith: So I tried to make it as normal, a day as I could get his lunch together get him together. Getting schools together,

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And that was a struggle for him?

Erin Smith: He just didn’t want to do anything.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: But he went?

Erin Smith: He went.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And that was the last time you saw him?

Erin Smith nods

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Did you. Was there any expectation would you, that you would never see him again?

Erin Smith shakes her head silently

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What could have been done differently?

Erin Smith: I’m sorry.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Looking back. What did he need more support, did he need more help?

Erin Smith: I do believe he did. I also believe that the police and fire clinic failed him. They did not do a CT scan, they did not do an MRI, they did not fully check him out to see exactly what happened, or where he was hit. And if it did cause any damage. So I don’t think there was a thorough review of him or his injuries.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: There was no review of if he had any damage to his brain concussion?

Erin Smith: No.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Had there been any looking back? Is there something that his employer, outside of the clinic, that his employer should have done? Should he have gone to work that day?

Erin Smith: I don’t believe he should have gotten to work that day. I think everyone who was involved in the capital riot, should have been evaluated from a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, they should have at least met with someone and talked about what they went through and what they saw, before returning to work to make sure that they were all stable.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And none of that was offered?

Erin Smith: No.

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What do you need now? What do you want from the Metropolitan Police Department, the mayor, the clinic, what would, what would help?

Erin Smith: I believe that the Metropolitan Police Department and the mayor in the city of DC should recognize Jeff’s death as line of duty, so that he is given the recognition that he deserves. If it wasn’t for January 6, he would still be here.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And they are saying that he did not die in the line of duty. Because why?

 

Erin Smith: Because he died by his own hand.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And what would a line of duty classification. How would that help?

 

Erin Smith: It would give him the recognition that he’s due. that the reason he died is because of that day. It would also just show that nationally with police and suicides that majority of them are caused by the work that they experience, and the military has gone on to recognize these types of deaths as basically line of duty deaths. And unfortunately, the people that protect us every day, have not been given the same rights.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And Jeff is not alone and he’s not the only one after January 6 either. Is this how important do you think this is for the families, for the officers themselves the officers who did were there on January 6 or who have some experience yet to be experienced that could be traumatic?

 

How, for a line of duty classification for Jeff’s death, how symbolically important is that for families of police officers and even the police officers who are serving?

 

Erin Smith: It’s extremely important. There have been numerous police officers who have died by suicide, just this year, and I’m sure a lot of them had to do with what they saw, or what they experienced at work, and for them to be given the recognition. And the recognition that what they do is important not only for them and their legacy but for their families. Just to know that the police department stood behind them.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Have you received, when would you expect to receive an answer from the board?

 

Erin Smith: I don’t know. There was not a time limit on how long they had to respond.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Have you heard from the mayor?

 

Erin Smith: No, the only time that I spoke to her was in the Rose Garden. During the ceremony for the gold medal of honor. And the only reason that she even came up to me was because my attorney went up to her and asked if she wanted to meet me.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And what did she say to you?

 

Erin Smith: Basically just I’m sorry for your loss.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Have you heard from the police chief?

 

Erin Smith: I have. Chief Conti reached out when it happened. And I’ve also spoke to him at the capitol as or, I’m sorry. I also spoke to Chief Conti at the White House as well during the ceremony.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Has he given any indication that he agrees with you that Jeff should be recognized for a line of duty death?

 

Erin Smith: He has not. But given his position, I don’t expect him to say one way or the other.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What about the President have you heard from the President?

 

Erin Smith: Not since the ceremony in the Rose Garden.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Did you say did you talk to him then? Did he say anything to you?

 

Erin Smith: I did talk to him, my attorney also spoke to him, and he was very interested in finding out what exactly was going on and what needs to happen.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: How important is Jeff’s death to be signified is the line of duty death?

 

Erin Smith: It’s extremely important just for him to be recognized for him, to have the opportunity to have his name on the police officers national memorial in DC. And it also comes with additional benefits, Obviously for myself. Jeff was the breadwinner of the household. It’s not, you know, I feel that the recognition is more important than the added benefits but the health insurance is obviously extremely important.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Jeff was really close with his dog, as well, no? Can you talk about how that relationship changed as well he was withdrawn from you and from his friends after January six, but he was also withdrawn from his dog too?

 

Erin Smith: He was. He wasn’t interested in taking him out, wasn’t really interested in anything, to be honest. But he adored the dog. We joked, often, that it was the dog whose name is Mr bossman, and then his Mustang, and then me. But he loved him and he obviously has had the dog longer than he knows me, and it was very important to him.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And so you saw that relationship change not just your communication with him but also with his dog did he was with his Mustang did was he able to do it? Was he able to take drives after that did he did he remove himself from most of the things that he loved the most?

 

Erin Smith: He did. He became distant from the dog. He didn’t get in the car and drive anywhere when he was home. The only time he got back in the car was to go to work.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What about other family members did he reach out to them, did he still communicate with them?

 

Erin Smith: The communication with his family became less and less. He spoke to his parents every day and that kind of stopped. His mother was in the hospital at the time and he wasn’t really checking in, he just kind of withdrew himself from everything.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And you think that his death is directly related to what happened to him on January 6?

 

Erin Smith: I do, I believe that if you did not get hit, and his demeanor did not change, that he would still be here

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Because he was a completely different person?

 

Erin Smith: Yes, he completely changed. He was not himself. He was not the Jeff that left on the sixth, it was a completely different person that came home.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Tell me about what are some of Jeff’s greatest qualities?

 

Erin Smith: He was funny. He was a man of few words, but when he spoke them he meant them. He was honest, sometimes brutally honest to where you didn’t really want to hear what he had to say, but you knew it was real, and it was genuine. He enjoyed cars, which was something that we both had in common. We would go to car shows, and take rides in his car and he was just a fun person to be around. He made me happy, and made me feel safe, which was important

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: What about, was he close with his fellow officers?

 

Erin Smith: He had a few close friends from work that he talked to on a daily basis, whether they were on the same beat or not he still would talk to them and, you know, text or call

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Did he reach out to them after January 6 at all?

 

Erin Smith: Not that I’m aware of.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So he didn’t talk to his friends either?

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So, what do you want the world to know about him?

 

Erin Smith: That he’s a good person. He was a good officer. The citizens of DC had very nice things to say about him. I did receive some letters from some people that lived in DC that had interactions with him. And he was created his job and he loved his job and he loved America, and he just was a great person and a great son and a great brother, and just a wonderful husband.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So, I’m going to ask the flip of that question first. And that is what would it mean if they say no to a line of duty classification?

 

Erin Smith: I hope I don’t have to find out. I hope that the city and the department does the right thing.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And then, what would it mean if they do rule in this favor?

 

Erin Smith: It would be huge, not only for myself but for all police officers in the hopes that this makes the change, but it would also give Jeff, the recognition that he’s to an official burial. Hopefully his name on the law enforcement memorial wall. The people know that this wasn’t just random. It really was because of what happened at work, and for Americans to understand that they go through traumatic situations on a daily basis. And that, you know, these things do happen.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: So you said that morning. You try to make it as normal as possible, made him lunch, up to get them out the door because he was struggling. So, when he walked out the door, that day, what were you feeling, what were you thinking?

 

Erin Smith: I walked into his car. I kissed him goodbye. And I went back inside. I tried to keep it together as best I could, but I know that he did not want to go. But he knew that it was what he had to do.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And why were you so worried?

 

Erin Smith: Just because he wasn’t feeling well, he wasn’t himself, you know. Whatever it was, he just didn’t act like the same person. And because of that I was just worried, you know.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Did you ever think what happened could have happened?

 

Erin Smith: No, never.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: Did it cross your mind?

 

Erin Smith: Never.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: But you were still worried anyway about his health and his safety?

 

Erin Smith: I mean I worried every day he went to work. So, you know I try, I was more worried. Just because he’d been away he’d gone through a traumatic experience.

 

But I tried to tell him, you know, it’s gonna be a good day, everything’s gonna be fine. We’re gonna get through it.

 

Leigh Ann Caldwell: And he gave you no indication that he wasn’t going to come home that night.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Getting hit hard in the head can really fuck you up and you don’t even know it. looks like that’s what happened here.
    I got a soccer injury to head recently fell backwards heading the ball and bounced back of head on the artificial turf- I kept playing, like nothing happened but had got amnesia for about a one hour period.
    My wife was taking video and all the stuff on video and talking to people later that was filmed I remember nothing at all. Same could of happened to Eric doesn’t remember anything plus got hit where it gave hi acute depression on top of it and couldn’t shake it off or “realize” he should too.
    Line of duty status in order!
    Poor guy his wife deserves it.