Two Bridgeport Conn. police officers have been placed on leave by the Mayor who expressed disappointment in the handling of investigations into the deaths of two Black women, Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls. Mayor Joseph P. Ganim issued an official statement detailing the decision behind suspending the officers amid scrutiny from both the families of the victims and the public.
“I want you to know that I am extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and find actions taken up to this point unacceptable,” read the statement from Mayor Ganim. “After reviewing the matters even more closely and in the absence of the Police Chief, I have directed Deputy Chief Baraja to immediately put on administrative leave the two officers who are the subject of a Bridgeport Police Office of Internal Affairs (OIA) Investigation and disciplinary action for lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy in the handling of these two matters.”
The statement continues, “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. 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. It should also be known that the untimely death of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls are both under active investigation and have been reassigned to members of the Bridgeport Police Department for resolution.”
Smith-Fields, 23, was found unresponsive in her home on Dec. 12, 2021, by a Bridgeport Police Department office according to CNN. The police were called by a man she had met on Bumble and spent time with the night before. He informed law enforcement the two had only known each other for three days. According to his story, together they engaged in shots of tequila before Smith-Fields got sick. Still, they allegedly continued to enjoy the night.
The family was not notified of Smith-Field’s. death by police officers and were only made aware of the fatality a day later after visiting her home and finding a note from the landlord on Smith-Fields’ apartment door. According to the report, the police collected more than $1,300 in cash, her passport, a credit card, and her cell phone, however, the family claims to have recovered a used condom, a sedative pill, the bloodstained sheet, an overturned plate of food, and bottles of alcohol.
A medical examiner ruled that Smith-Fields’ death was accidental and caused by “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol.” Smith-Fields death was only investigated as a crime as of Jan. 25.
“The Police Department has been racially insensitive to this family and has treated this family with no respect and has violated their civil rights,” read a notice filed by family attorney Darnell Crosland. “They have failed to investigate this matter, and they refuse to view the last person with Lauren Smith-Fields before she died as a person of interest. This behavior is unacceptable.”
In the case of Brenda Lee Rawls, mirrored claims of disregard are expressed by family members. According to NBC News, the 53-year-old Bridgeport resident was found dead on the same day as Smith-Fields and, similarly, relatives allege the police did not notify them of their loved ones’ death. Her sister Dorothy Rawls Washington shared that Rawls told her the day before of plans to visit a male acquaintance who lived down the street. After two days without contact, family members became worried and went to visit the unidentified man who claimed Rawls had died in her sleep.
“Nobody ever notified us that she died,” said Washington. “We had to do our own investigation and find out where she was.” She continued, “They never took any opportunity to look for next of kin.”
According to the New York Times, Rawls lived just two miles away from Smith-Fields.
“Suspension is suspension, that really does nothing for us,” Washington told NYT of the Mayor’s actions. “Everybody that’s involved needs to be held accountable.”
Both the tragic deaths of Smith-Fields and Rawls are currently under investigation and have been reassigned to other members of the Bridgeport Police Department.