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Two detectives suspended over mishandling of Black women’s deaths

by Mike Creef, Staff Writer
brenda rawls lauren smith fields black women detective
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Two Bridgeport, Connecticut, detectives have been placed on administrative leave. They’re being investigated by internal affairs for their handling of two cases involving the death of Black women in December.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim said in a statement Sunday he was  “extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and find actions taken up to this point unacceptable.”

The two cases in question are that of Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, and Brenda Rawls, 53, both Black women and both dying on the same day, December 12. 

The families for both women say police never informed them of the deaths and allege that police and detectives have not taken the investigations seriously.

Mayor slams police dept.

Ganim’s statement suggests that policies may not have been followed in the investigation of both deaths.

“It is an unacceptable failure if policies were not followed,” Ganim said. “To the families, friends and all who care about the human decency that should be shown in these situations in this case by members of the Bridgeport Police Department, I am very sorry.”

Detective Kevin Cronin and Detective Angel Llanos were identified by the mayor’s spokeswoman as the two officers handling the cases and instructed to be put on leave by Ganim.

The Two Cases

Lauren Smith-Fields was at her apartment with a date she had met on the dating site Bumble when she was reported “not breathing” the next morning to the police by her date.

Smith-Fields was with Matthew LaFountain, 37, a white man, at her apartment reportedly drinking tequila when she fell ill and vomited, according to a Bridgeport Police Department report. Smith-Fields allegedly spent some time in the restroom according to what LaFountain told police. “He thought it was odd, but didn’t feel it was his place to say anything as he didn’t know her that well.”

LaFountain stayed the night at the apartment. He woke up the next morning seeing blood flow out of Smith-Fields’ nostril with her not breathing. LaFoutain called 911 and, according to police reports, Smith-Fields was declared dead at 6:49 a.m. Medical staff said she had been dead for at least an hour.

It took the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner over a month to release the cause of death. Last week the medical examiner ruled Smith-Fields’ cause of death as an “accidental” and caused by “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol.”

Bridgeport’s narcotics and vice division has opened an investigation. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will assist them.

bumble lauren smith fields

Police have refused to investigate Matthew LaFountain, left, over the death of Lauren Smith-Fields, right.

Brenda Rawls

Meanwhile, that same day Brenda Rawls was found dead in the home of a male acquaintance that lived down the street from her. 

According to her family, Rawls told her sister on Dec. 11 that she planned to go to the house of a male acquaintance that lived down the street from her. The family said they tried to reach Rawls for the next two days with no success.

“Then, on the 14th, we said something’s wrong,” Rawls’ sister Dorothy Rawls Washington said. “So two of my sisters, my niece and my niece’s boyfriend walked down to that male’s house.”

Washington said when he was asked whether she was there, he said he wasn’t able to wake her up on Dec. 12 and that she had died.

“Nobody ever notified us that she died,” Washington said. “We had to do our own investigation and find out where she was. They never took any opportunity to look for next of kin,” she said of police. “The next time we saw our sister, she was in a funeral home.”

The Medical Examiner has said the cause of death has not yet been determined. Both families are calling on the state to investigate the deaths of Smith-Fields and Rawls. “It will not be a fair or thorough investigation if done by the city,” Washington said.

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