2 CT detectives suspended over handling of Lauren Smith-Fields, Brenda Lee Rawls investigations

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Monday, January 31, 2022
CT detectives suspended over handling of 2 death investigations
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Two Bridgeport detectives have been suspended over their handling over a pair of death investigations, Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls. Joe Torres has more.

BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut (WABC) -- Two Bridgeport detectives have been suspended over their handling over a pair of death investigations, including the case of 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields, who was found dead after a date with a man she met online.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim expressed his disappointment with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department in calling for detectives Angel Llanos and Kevin Cronin to be placed on administrative leave pending an Internal Affairs investigation.

Smith-Fields died December 12 from "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol" following a date with a man she met on Bumble, and her death was ruled accidental.

According to the police report, authorities arrived at her apartment to find "a young adult Black female lying on her back, on the floor" who "did not appear to be breathing."

The man who had gone on the date with Smith-Fields, who ABC News is not identifying, is the one who called police. He said he had only known her for three days and that he visited her apartment for the first time the night before her death and claimed that she fell ill.

The next morning, he said he noticed her nose was bleeding and that she was not breathing, so he dialed 911.

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Bridgeport police said last week that its narcotics and vice division, with help from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, is investigating to see if any crimes were committed and if anyone should be charged.

The mayor's words and actions mean nothing to Smith-Fields' mother.

"He had from the beginning of this to stand in and say something, but he didn't up until the march, us keep talking and talking, and being on the media," Shantell Fields said. "I guess he had to do something to save face."

The other case involves the death of 53-year-old Brenda Rawls, another Black woman who died in Bridgeport at about the same time.

Both families complained they were not notified by police after their loved one's bodies were found, accusing city police of showing a lack of responsiveness and racial insensitivity in their handling of the investigation.

Smith-Field's family said police never notified them of her death, which they learned about more than a day later through a note left on her apartment door by her landlord.

The family also said police told them the man who called authorities was not a suspect in her death but have not told them why, and the detective on the case eventually asked them to stop calling.

Attorney Darnell Crosland, who is representing both families, has notified the city of a civil lawsuit accusing police of failing to properly investigate, seeking $30 million in damages for each family.

Crosland said the mayor's comments support the families' claims that police failed to investigate, failed to update the families, and in the Smith-Felds case, failed to aggressively question the last man seen with her.

'If the mayor is going to accept liability for what these officers did, that definitely helps us in our journey for justice," he said. "It helps substantiate our lawsuit. We are saying they were incompetent, they were negligent, they were racist."

They've also gotten support from local lawmakers.

"Do you think if a white mother or father had their 23-year-old white daughter die and the last person who saw her was an older Black man that she met on a dating site, do you think that would have been handled in the exact same way?" City Councilwoman Maria Pereira said. "I'm sorry, I don't believe that."

Rawl's family also was not notified of the death by police, and found out days later, Pereira said.

"What kind of behavior is this?" she said. "Why are family members having to search for a missing loved one, when police know the person is dead? Where is the responsibility to notify family?"

In his notice of intent to sue, Crosland said evidence, including a blood-stained bed sheet, was left in the apartment and was not recovered by police until two weeks later at the family's insistence.

"The police department has been racially insensitive to this family and has treated this family with no respect and has violated their civil rights," Crosland wrote.

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Ganim said that in addition, the supervisory officer who was in charge of overseeing these matters has retired from the department as of this past Friday.

"I again would like to express condolences to the families of Lauren Smith-Fields, and also to the family of Brenda Lee Rawls," Ganim said. "The Bridgeport Police Department has high standards for officer sensitivity especially in matters involving the death of a family member. It is an unacceptable failure if policies were not followed. 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."

Both cases remain under active investigation, and Ganim said they have been reassigned to members of the Bridgeport Police Department.

"I want to be clear to members of the public and the department that insensitivity, disrespect in action, or deviation from policy will not be tolerated by me or others in this administration," Ganim said. "My disappointment and demand for accountability in these and any other matter brought to my attention will remain until all the questions are answered to the satisfaction of all."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


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