About six months after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, Erin Smith was talking to a psychiatrist who was working on a report on her husband’s death. Jeffrey Smith, an officer with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, had died by suicide on Jan. 15, just nine days after the attack on the Capitol.
The psychiatrist, hired by a lawyer for Jeffrey’s estate, was examining whether the injuries Jeffrey suffered on Jan. 6 had caused his death. Erin didn’t know precisely what her husband had gone through on Jan. 6; the couple had a general understanding that they wouldn’t get into too many specifics about his police work. But from what he did share, it was awful.
“He internalized things. He said it was the worst day of his life,” Erin told the psychiatrist. “He said, you train all the time but it’s different when you experience it. I’d never seen him that way before. He was extremely even tempered. He was very calm about everything.”
When officers heard over the radio that shots were fired, Jeffrey told her, they didn’t know whether it was rioters or police who were shooting. Jeffrey, according to the psychiatrist’s subsequent report, told another friend that his adrenaline was pumping like crazy and called the scene “crazy.”
“We were literally in the halls of the Capitol pushing people out,” Jeffrey reportedly texted the friend. “It was like a movie.”
The rally in support of President Donald Trump was supposed to be “pro-police,” Erin noted, and taking on a violent mob inside the seat of the legislative branch wasn’t supposed to be on the agenda that day.
“He didn’t know the layout of the Capitol. The last time he was in the Capitol was when he was 10 years old,” Erin said. “He didn’t know if he was going to get out alive.”
Erin recalled to the psychiatrist that Jeffrey told her when he arrived home that he’d been “punched in the face, hit in the head with a metal pole.”
The aftermath of his death was a whirlwind for Erin. At first, she was told only that her husband had died in a car crash on George Washington Memorial Parkway. Then she was informed that her husband died by suicide, and had used his service weapon. Jeffrey’s crash was the result of his suicide. Later, as she was standing at a pharmacy counter waiting on a prescription, she found out she had lost her medical benefits, which had come through her husband’s job. It was all overwhelming.
“You can’t really process anything,” Erin said in a recent interview. “I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I just tried to get through each minute, while realizing that no one’s coming home.”
But Erin couldn’t stop thinking about what actually happened to her husband that day, and how it changed the man she knew as a fun-loving jokester who was always dancing around the house. Footage of Jan. 6 was wall-to-wall on cable news, but it yielded no clues about what Jeffrey saw and did ― nor about what was done to him. Amid a massive investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, the officer’s widow was being stonewalled by the Metropolitan Police Department, which did not release Jeffrey’s body camera footage after his death.
With the help of some of the online sleuths investigating the Jan. 6 attack, however, she soon learned more about what happened. Online investigators, working under the name Deep State Dogs, were able to find Jeffrey amid the mob.
They searched through hours of public video, scrutinizing single frames for the number on Jeffrey’s protective helmet. Finally, after countless hours of work, they found him right before he’s in the middle of a tussle with members of the mob inside the Capitol, not long after a rioter was shot as she jumped through a broken window into the Speaker’s Lobby.
Thanks to a civil lawsuit, Erin and her lawyer forced the disclosure of Jeffrey’s bodycam footage from that day. HuffPost obtained the video, which was also featured in a documentary by the German-language newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Just as Erin recalled him saying, it shows two attacks against Jeffrey: one inside the Capitol, on the House side, as police attempted to get rioters out of the building; the other outside the Capitol, after nightfall, when someone in the pro-Trump mob hurled a metal pole at the police line and struck him.
But Erin’s quest for justice is far from over.
(Warning: Some viewers may find this video disturbing.)
‘Just A Few Broken Windows’
About this time a year ago, a woman who agreed to be identified by HuffPost as Elizabeth was stressed. So, not long after the Jan. 6 attack, she went to see her chiropractor on Capitol Hill at his shop on East Capitol Street, barely 500 yards from the Capitol grounds. From the street outside her chiropractor’s yellow townhouse with the purple neon sign, Elizabeth could see the Capitol Dome and the giant temporary fence that now surrounded the Capitol complex.
Elizabeth had been going to the chiropractor for years. She shared a bit of what brought her to see him that day, perhaps thinking that a man so close to the Capitol who had clients who worked on the Hill might have similar feelings of unease in the aftermath of a violent mob’s attempt to stop the transfer of power in the United States.
“I said I had been stressed out and upset and scared by the attack on the Capitol,” Elizabeth told HuffPost. But, with her chiropractor’s hands on her body, she realized he had a very different perspective.
“While he was adjusting me, he said, ‘I thought it was just a few broken windows,’” Elizabeth said.
“I felt upset that he seemed clueless about how terrible it was. I felt upset that he didn’t understand how important it was, what had happened,” Elizabeth said.
“Of course,” as Elizabeth later learned, “he had been there.”
The chiropractor was David Walls-Kaufman. Members of the sleuthing group Deep State Dogs, who began a volunteer investigative effort for Jeffrey’s widow after her attorney reached out to HuffPost, confirmed Walls-Kaufman’s identity. Nearly six months after he was identified, he has not yet been arrested.
HuffPost also recently discovered how Walls-Kaufman entered the Capitol on Jan. 6. Newly released surveillance footage from the Capitol shows Walls-Kaufman, with his hoodie on his head, barreling through the building’s eastern doors, which are visible from the street outside his shop. He enters the Capitol seconds after a member of the mob violently pulls down a cop from behind and the mob rushes in. Another officer, wearing no protective gear, has to hurry over to help the fallen officer, and the mob surges through the doors. That’s when Walls-Kaufman rushes in, right behind Capitol riot defendants Simone Gold and John Strand, who ― like Walls-Kaufman ― promote conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic. (It’s not clear whether Walls-Kaufman knew Gold and Strand, who are facing felony charges of obstruction of an official proceeding as well as several misdemeanor charges.)
Walls-Kaufman, with his hoodie still over his head, turns back to the crowd and yells. Later, he’s with the mob as it attempts to get into the House chamber, and then appears to be jogging down the hallway to the Speaker’s Lobby, where Ashli Babbitt was shot. He then gets involved in a struggle with officers trying to get the mob out of the building.
The first melee seen on the bodycam tape unfolds as charged Capitol defendant Brian Bingham fights with officers inside the Capitol. Bingham was arrested in June, is facing six charges including felonies, and has another hearing set for Feb. 24. As the fight unfolds, footage shows Walls-Kaufman coming face-to-face with Jeffrey, grabbing the officer’s baton, and appearing to use it against him.
The other man identified is Taylor Taranto, who was also sued by Jeffrey’s estate and named in a HuffPost story in August. The Washington state resident and webmaster for his county GOP brought a weaponized cane with him when he stormed the Capitol and later posted a selfie video he shot inside the Capitol to Facebook “so someone will report me to the feds and we can get this party rolling!” He also has not yet been arrested.
The footage shows Taranto, who used the cane against other Jan. 6 participants outside the Capitol, holding the weaponized cane. Jeffrey’s body camera footage does not appear to show Taranto come into contact with Jeffrey specifically, but other footage shows Taranto raising the deadly weapon, grappling with officers, and seeming to protect Walls-Kaufman during the massive tussle as police tried to get him and the rest of the mob out of the building. (When Taranto is finally forced out, he once again raises the weaponized cane while laughing.)
Both conspiracy theorists who stormed the Capitol have been sued by a lawyer for Jeffrey’s estate in connection with his death — a lawsuit that brought about the disclosure of the tape.
In the bodycam footage, Jeffrey appears shaken up by the first incident. Another officer asks him if he’s OK, and Jeffrey tries to adjust his helmet and face mask, but seems to struggle with his helmet. The second time he stops, another officer assists him with his helmet, and Jeffrey wonders if it’s broken. He eventually catches up with his squad as they head toward the rotunda, where another battle is unfolding.
Footage captured by Jeffrey’s bodycam throughout the afternoon shows the crowd continuing to fight with police and hurl insults their way. After nightfall, the footage shows yet another assault.
A metal pole comes flying in from behind an American flag, cutting through the evening sky. A colleague in front of him attempts to deflect the projectile. But Jeffrey doesn’t see it, and the pipe hits him in the head.
“ARE YOU OK?” a startled colleague asks after it hits.
“What the fuck was that?” Jeffrey asks. He retreats toward the Capitol, where the inauguration platform is in tatters.
“Right in the face with a fucking piece of metal?” he says.
More broadly, the footage also shows a first-person perspective of what it was like for an overwhelmed police force to enter the Capitol when it was overrun by rioters who subjected them to a torrent of verbal and physical abuse, all because the mob believed Trump’s lies about a stolen election.
“You stand with criminals!” a tall middle-aged man, who is wearing a dog strapped on his stomach, yells at a police line. “You all stand with criminals! Every last one of ya! ... You’re standing with criminals, you’re trash!”
‘Widow Erin Smith And Officer Smith’s Family Await That Justice’
Officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6 are still reeling from the effects of the attack, and a number are enraged by the efforts of many Republicans to downplay and ignore their experiences. Several other officers who worked on Jan. 6 also died by suicide in the aftermath of the Capitol riot: U.S. Capitol Police Officer Howie Liebengood in January, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Kyle DeFreytag in July, and Metropolitan Police Officer Gunther Hashida in August.
A source told HuffPost that several officers gave their weapons to others in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, afraid of what they might do. (During Trump’s impeachment trial, Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island said a Capitol Police officer did so.) Officers such as Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police have encouraged their colleagues in law enforcement to seek therapy and mental health treatment to deal with the trauma of the riot.
Walls-Kaufman’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. But hours after HuffPost contacted his lawyer with a follow-up question, Walls-Kaufman reached out. In the 2:20 a.m. email, Walls-Kaufman said he was “working past these spurious charges” and that any “objective viewing” of Jeffrey’s body camera footage showed that the allegations were a “toxic lie.”
Taranto, who is representing himself, said in a court filing that Jeffrey’s death was “an Act of God and is [in] no way attributable or caused by any prior actions of the defendant.” He made a $3.5 million counterclaim against Jeffrey’s estate and demanded a public apology, saying he’d “sustained mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, and loss of reputation” because of the allegations in the lawsuit. Judge Florence Y. Pan this week denied Taranto’s attempt to add counterclaims, writing that the effort was “futile” because Taranto’s “proposed counterclaim for defamation is barred by the judicial-proceedings privilege, which ‘affords an attorney and his or her client absolute immunity from actions in defamation for communications related to judicial proceedings.’”
Taranto didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, but in an interview with the Tri-City Herald he said that he still hadn’t been questioned by law enforcement. Taranto, who was already deeply into conspiracy theories before the Capitol riot, told the paper that rioters from that day were being “politically persecuted.” He also mentioned the now-debunked conspiracy theory that an Arizona man named Ray Epps, who never entered the Capitol and is seen on video de-escalating a conflict between protesters and law enforcement, was actually a secret informant for the FBI on Jan. 6.
On a Facebook page Taranto appears to share with his wife, there are posts calling Attorney General Merrick Garland a “stupid b@$tard” who should “rot in hell” and wasn’t “going to do sh17,” along with posts claiming the “real insurrection happened in Nov. 2020” and that the “real insurrectionists will be executed for treason.”
While initially claiming the Capitol attack was infiltrated by antifa, he’s now all-in on the false-flag claims made by right-wing media figures like Tucker Carlson that Trump opponents in the government were behind the riot. “What is entrapment?” Taranto wrote in a post about a Carlson segment that falsely and ham-fistedly accused a Carlson fan of being an agent provocateur. (In reality, that Carlson viewer is actually a St. Louis Cardinals superfan known as Rally Runner who runs around the baseball stadium in support of his team.)
“Congress staged a Reichstag Fire,” Taranto posted online this month, referring to the 1933 fire at the German parliament that Nazis leaders used to abolish constitutional protections and take power. “You heard it here first folks. I’m a survivor of the greatest terrorist attack on American soil!”
While Walls-Kaufman, Taranto, and the person who threw the pipe have not been criminally charged in connection with the Capitol riot, that doesn’t make them unique. Hundreds of others entered the Capitol, including hundreds identified by online sleuths but not yet arrested. The FBI has arrested more than 700 people in connection with the events of Jan. 6, but that’s still just roughly a quarter of the total number of individuals who could be charged, which is more than 2,500.
There’s really no dispute that Kaufman and Taranto were unlawfully in the Capitol that day, but given that there were two attacks on Jeffrey, it’s going to be difficult to determine how much if any civil liability they hold for his death. At a hearing last month, Judge Pan implored Taranto to find an attorney, especially because the civil case could impact any pending criminal investigation into his conduct.
“The FBI has the video showing the attacks from several angles, including from Jeffrey’s body camera. Though many others have been arrested, so far these two have not,” Erin Smith wrote in a recent Washington Post opinion piece. “At a minimum, they were not authorized to be in the Capitol, and, according to video, at least one was carrying a deadly weapon inside.”
David P. Weber, an attorney representing Jeffrey’s estate, was on Capitol Hill with Erin for the anniversary of the riot. They’re still fighting the D.C. Police and Firefighters Retirement and Relief Board to recognize Jeffrey’s death as being in the line of duty, and they’re pressing lawmakers to ensure that the deaths of Jeffrey and other officers who died by suicide are recognized as line-of-duty deaths. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is introducing legislation to help the families of those who die by suicide after work-related trauma, as CNN reported. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, which would change the criteria under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program that is administered by the Justice Department.
The lawsuit, meanwhile, presses on, even as Jeffrey’s family awaits arrests. Weber wrote that Taranto’s continued freedom is not evidence he has done nothing wrong, and noted the attorney general’s recent comments about the Justice Department’s commitment to bringing Jan. 6 defendants to justice.
“The video evidence at trial will prove that Defendant Taranto was present that day. He carried a dagger strapped to his chest, and he assaulted numerous people at the Capitol with a cane used as a weapon,” Weber wrote in a filing. “As the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., has been credited with saying: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ Widow Erin Smith and Officer Smith’s family await that justice.”