Connecticut Police Officers Suspended Over Lauren Smith-Fields, Brenda Rawls Death Investigations

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Two Connecticut detectives involved in the death investigations of two Black women have been suspended from their duties and put on administrative leave, city officials announced Sunday evening.

Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, was found dead in her Connecticut apartment on Dec. 12 after a man she went on a Bumble date with called police to say he found her unresponsive. Smith-Fields’ family said police never notified them of her death, which they learned about more than a day later when they found a note on her apartment door left by her landlord.

The family said police told them the man who called authorities was not a suspect in her death but didn’t say why. The detective eventually asked them to stop calling, they said. No charges were filed.

The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Smith-Fields’ death an accident from “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol” on Jan. 24. One day later, “as a result” of determining her cause of death, the Bridgeport Police Department announced it was opening a criminal investigation into her death.

Brenda Lee Rawls, 53, who was also Black, died in Bridgeport, Connecticut, at about the same time. Her family also said they were not notified by police of her death and found out days later.

In a statement released Sunday night, Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim gave his condolences to the Smith-Fields and Rawls families.

“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,” he wrote.

Ganim said he directed the police department’s deputy chief to place both Officer Angel Llanos and Officer Kevin Cronin are on administrative leave. Cronin was assigned to Smith-Fields’ case, while Llanos was the supervising officer for both Smith-Fields’ and Rawls’ investigations.

Llanos retired from the department last Friday, Bridgeport officials said.

The two officers are the subject of a Bridgeport Police Office of Internal Affairs 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 mayor said. He did not specify which policies they failed to follow.

The Smith-Fields’ attorney, Darnell Crosland, intends to file a lawsuit accusing police of failing to properly investigate.

Officer Kevin Cronin

In his notice of intent to sue, Crosland said evidence, including a blood-stained bed sheet, was left in Smith-Fields’ apartment and was not recovered by police until the family insisted two weeks later. He said that as of Friday the evidence had still not been submitted to the state forensics lab.

Smith-Fields’ family and public officials have accused police of racial bias in the investigation, and many have taken to the public square criticizing how missing people of color are treated by law enforcement.

“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?” Maria Pereira, a city councilwoman whose district includes Smith-Fields’ home, said. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe that.”

Both Smith-Fields and Rawls’ deaths are under active investigation and have been reassigned to members of the Bridgeport Police Department for resolution, Ganim said.