January 21, 2021
General News

Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood, 51, dies days after riot; remembered as 'selfless,' 'kind'

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A US Capitol Police officer died while off-duty on Saturday, according to a statement released Sunday by the Capitol Police and the White House

Howard Charles Liebengood, 51, was assigned to the Senate Division and had been with the Capitol Police since April 2005. The police department tasked with protecting federal property in Washington did not disclose the cause of Liebengood’s death nor any details about the circumstances.

His passing comes after the Capitol was stormed by rioters on Jan. 6. The crowd swarmed the building in a briefly successful effort to stop Congress from counting the votes of the Electoral College and certifying President Donald Trump’s defeat.

At least one police officer, Brian Sicknick, was fatally injured in the riot; four other people also died. Dozens of other officers were injured in the attack.

Liebengood was on duty during the riot on Wednesday, per a statement from the Capitol Police Officers’ Union, though it was not immediately clear if his death was linked to the riot.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, and colleagues,” the Capitol Police said in a statement. “We ask that his family and other USCP officers’ and their families’ privacy be respected during this profoundly difficult time.”

Liebengood also had family ties to the Senate. His father, Howard S. Liebengood, was the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms from 1981 to 1983. He later formed a powerful lobbying firm and served as chief of staff to former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Gus Papathanasiou, chairman of the Capitol Police Officers’ Union, said in a statement that his death has left the force “reeling.”

“Every Capitol Police Officer puts the security of others before their own safety and Officer Liebengood was an example of the selfless service that is the hallmark of the USCP,” Papathanasiou said. “This is a tragic day.”

Trump ordered U.S. flags at the White House and other public property to fly at half-staff through Jan. 13 “as a sign of respect for the service and sacrifice” of Sicknick and Liebengood.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi also released a statement with condolences on behalf of the House of Representatives.

“Officer Liebengood was a patriot who dedicated his life to defending the Capitol and protecting all who served work in and visit this temple of our Democracy. His passing is a great tragedy that compounds the horror of this past week,” she wrote. “May Officer Liebengood’s service be an inspiration to support and defend the Constitution and protect the American people.”

More tributes to Liebengood from current and former members of Congress, staffers, and journalists poured out on Twitter on Sunday.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Liebengood had been posted at the door nearest his office, where they got to know each other.

“Howie was one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have met in my decade in Washington,” Coons wrote. “My heart breaks for his family, friends and colleagues.”

Matt Waldrip, chief of staff to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, recalled that “talking with him was often the best part of my Senate day.”

“I know Howie well enough to know he did everything he could on Wednesday,” he wrote. “We love Howie. We’ll honor him forever.”

Nancy Cordes, chief congressional correspondent for CBS News, recalled that Liebengood “always had a smile on his face and a kind word to share, even at 6:45 in the morning.”

According to Cordes, former Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer told CBS News that Liebengood should be considered a “line of duty casualty.”

The news of his death also prompted some lawmakers to intensify calls for reforms to the Capitol Police in the wake of the attack.

“Our officers need more than gratitude,” tweeted Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. “They need authentic, capable leadership and meaningful support, and I call on my colleagues to join me demanding it immediately.”

Prior to his time with the Capitol Police, Liebengood was a professional race car driver.

In 2002, he drove a BMW and his sponsors included Pennzoil and the National Campaign to Stop Violence, according to a local paper. He also presented a youth motivational program called “Racing to Live by the Rules.”

“We’re all racing through life together,” he told a group of sixth-graders at the time.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Howard Liebengood: U.S. Capitol Police officer dies in days after riot