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Family of Black woman found dead questions police response

The family of a Black woman who was found dead last month in her Bridgeport apartment has accused city police of showing a lack of responsiveness and racial insensitivity in their handling of the investigation.

Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, was found dead after a man she had met recently online called police on Dec. 12 to say he awoke to find Smith-Fields unresponsive. 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 said police told them the man who called authorities was not a suspect in her death, but have not told them why. The detective eventually asked them to stop calling, they said. The family's attorney, Darnell Crosland, has notified the city of his intent to file a lawsuit accusing police of failing to properly investigate.

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. He said that as of Friday the evidence had still not been submitted to the state forensics lab.

“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.

The city said in a statement that they are awaiting the result of toxicology tests to determine the cause of death and that the investigation is continuing.

Mayor Joe Ganim said Monday that sensitivity and respect toward family members are important and the handling of the case has been referred to the Office of Internal Affairs for an investigation. He said he would work with the police chief to make changes to department practices for notifying family members of a death.

“I support and add my voice to the family, community, and elected officials who are calling for state legislation on this issue,” he said.

About 100 people held a rally in Bridgeport on Sunday — which would have been Smith-Field's 24th birthday — asking the state take over the police investigation.

“All we keep getting is doors closed in our face and empty promises,” her father, Everett Smith, said during the rally, according to Hearst Connecticut Media.

The family was also seeking an internal affairs investigation and asked state lawmakers to pass a bill requiring police to notify loved ones within 24 hours when someone is found dead.

The man who was with Smith-Fields described for police a night of drinking, playing games and watching a movie, according to an incident report. He said she got sick at one point and later fell asleep and he put her to bed. He said that when he woke up at 3 a.m. she was snoring, but when he woke again about three hours later there was blood coming from her nose and she was not breathing.

No charges were filed.

Maria Pereira, a city councilwoman whose district includes Smith-Fields’ home, said she is appalled by the way the family has been treated and apparent deference shown to the 37-year-old white man who was with her when she died.

“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?” Pereira, a Democrat, said. “I'm sorry, I don't believe that.”

Pereira said she also wants answers for the family of 53-year-old Brenda Rawls, another Black woman who died in Bridgeport at about the same time. Her 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?”



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