For months, the widow of D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Officer Jeffrey Smith ― who died by suicide after protecting the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 ― has been trying to figure out exactly what happened to her husband the day that a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the seat of the U.S. legislative branch because they believed online conspiracy theories that the election was stolen.
Erin Smith, the widow of the 12-year MPD veteran, knew that her husband had been assaulted with a metal object of some kind. But she was stonewalled at every turn, even as she’s attended events at the White House where President Joe Biden honored Jeffrey Smith, who died on Jan. 15, and others who defended the Capitol. MPD refused to turn over footage from Jeffrey Smith’s body-worn camera, which would show what he went through that day. And she was battling with the Police and Firefighters Retirement and Relief Board in Washington, trying to convince them to find that her husband’s death by suicide was a line-of-duty death.
David P. Weber, an attorney and professor in forensics who teaches at the Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University in Maryland and is representing Erin Smith and her husband’s estate, was getting restless.
So when he read a HuffPost story about the “Sedition Hunters” who were working to identify violent Capitol rioters, he reached out and asked a reporter to make an introduction. Maybe, he thought, online sleuths would be able to figure out what happened to Jeffrey Smith that day, and perhaps light a bit of a fire under the government and secure benefits for an officer’s widow.
Soon, Weber was working with Deep State Dogs, an open-source intelligence group that has worked to identify several violent rioters, including the the MAGA-hatted California man who was charged with electroshocking Officer Mike Fanone in the neck when he was held hostage by the mob on Jan. 6. Because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry, Deep State Dogs worked quietly under the banner “Team Jeff (4626)” ― a reference to Jeffrey Smith’s badge number ― as they pored over hours of Capitol attack videos.
Given the astonishing amount of evidence of the events of Jan. 6, it took more than a month before they found him. But Thursday afternoon, a member of the group found what they were looking for: a helmet bearing the number 4626. There was Smith in the middle of a battle by the eastern entrance to the House side of the Capitol, not far from the Speaker’s Lobby. “Team Jeff” had found him. They celebrated in a group message with fire emojis: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Things moved quickly from there. They zeroed in on a man who came face-to-face with Jeffrey Smith just before the officer collapsed in the middle of a scrum. A facial recognition search turned up a hit for the man, who was wearing a padded motorcycle jacket. It was David Walls-Kaufman, who sleuths later discovered helpfully wore the same unique jacket in a video he posted to his own YouTube page.
“We felt we had to do something to honor the memory and family of Officer Smith. It’s terrible that the bereaved were left in that situation,” Forrest Rogers of Deep State Dogs told HuffPost. “So we turned to the thing we do best: finding bad guys.”
After the riot, Walls-Kaufman admitted to a reporter from NBC 6 in Miami that he was present on the Capitol stairs. He claimed not to be a Trump supporter, although his Facebook page and Twitter account suggest otherwise. No one answered the phone at a number listed.
Authorities won’t have to travel too far if they arrest Walls-Kaufman. He runs the Capitol Hill Chiropractic Center in D.C., only four blocks from the Capitol grounds. Back in 2008, he told Politico that about 40% of his clients worked in or around Capitol Hill and had issues because of the “unforgiving” surfaces in the building.
The FBI has already arrested more than 570 defendants in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. Walls-Kaufman may face several misdemeanor charges. Video footage discovered by Deep State Dogs shows Walls-Kaufman coming face to face with Jeffrey Smith as an angry crowd pushes to confront the officers. Whether Walls-Kaufman ends up with a felony charge might depend on what shows up on officers’ body-worn camera footage from that day.
Weber said he was astonished by how quickly online sleuths were able to solve a mystery that Jeffrey Smith’s family had been waiting on the feds to resolve for months.
“I thought the ‘I’ in FBI stood for ‘investigation,’” Weber said. “It’s pretty lame that a private lawyer for a dead police officer’s widow has to be the one conducting the investigation ... The fact that these volunteers have accomplished what the FBI has not is extraordinary.”
A FBI official declined to comment on Walls-Kaufman.
Walls-Kaufman’s potential criminal troubles are still on the horizon, but his legal troubles have already begun. Less than 24 hours after the ID, Weber filed a lawsuit against Walls-Kaufman on behalf of Smith’s estate. He spent Thursday evening going over the high-quality video frame by frame with the help of his YouTube-savvy 17-year-old son, and Friday morning he obtained an opinion from Jonathan L. Arden, D.C.’s former medical examiner, concluding that Jeffrey Smith had “post-concussion syndrome” because he lost consciousness after being struck.
In the meantime, Deep State Dogs have another target from the same video. The man in the “Make Space Great Again” hat. He’s holding a black object: maybe a cane, maybe a crowbar. And he’s within striking distance of Jeffrey Smith.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.