There are new questions regarding the police investigation into the dating app death of a young woman in Connecticut, as her family blasted the police department's "careless" handling of the case from the very start.
Aside from their anguish from losing a daughter and a sister, the family of Lauren Smith-Fields is outraged and disgusted at how they say the Bridgeport Police Department has investigated the mysterious death of the 23-year-old.
"They wanted us to forget about our daughter, their sister, our loved one," said mother Shantell Fields. "They thought they were just going to throw her away like she was garbage, like she wasn’t important, like she didn’t have family members who loved her. We’re fighting for her."
Smith-Fields' brother, Lakeem Jetter, called the police department "careless" for how the case has been investigated, saying there was "no concern, no care for the family, about how we felt, our grief, our pain — none of that."
The I-Team obtained a police report of the response to a 911 call from Smith-Fields' apartment on the morning of Dec. 12, from a white male identified as Matthew LaFountain. The investigator noted he was trembling and visibly shaken.
LaFountain told investigators he and Smith-Fields met on the dating app Bumble. When they met up in person, the two began drinking shots of tequila before Smith-Fields became ill, he said, and that they later played some games, ate some food and started to watch a movie.
LaFountain told police he carried Smith-Fields to her bedroom and laid her in her bed. He then laid down next to her and fell asleep. He woke up again at approximately 6:30 a.m., finding her laying on her right side, with blood coming out of her right nostril onto the bed and not breathing, according to the police report.
"The whole day goes by and no one reached out to the family at all," said Tavar Gray-Smith, another brother of Smith-Fields.
The close-knit family says they went to the apartment the next day after frantically calling and texting her, and were referred to a Detective Cronin.
"They didn’t contact us, they didn't let us know anything. It’s crazy," said Jetter. "He said she met somebody on Bumble and ... he seemed like a nice guy, he sound like a really good guy."
But that's as much information as Jetter or the rest of the family would get during that call, as it abruptly ended.
"He said 'I'll call you back,' and just hung up in my face," Jetter said.
The family said the detective promised to come by the apartment. But according to them, he never showed up. The family says the relationship with police devolved from there — with no contact from the department from Dec. 13 until Dec. 29.
When they returned to the apartment to clear out their loved one's belongings, the family said a new detective showed up out of the blue to tell them he’d taken over the case from Detective Cronin.
"We were in the process of cleaning out her apartment — and he showed up ... nobody called us nobody told us. He literally popped up like a genie," Jetter said. "The detective said (Cronin) effed up, he messed up, he didn't know what he was doing, he messed up the case."
The family says they provided evidence that they had collected to crime scene investigators, who arrived for the very first time that day. Some of the items they handed over included a bloody sheet and a pill.
"There was a big circle of blood, in the middle of the bed, there were two cups of drinks or whatever, next to a bottle — they didn't take none of that," said Jetter. "We had seen a condom, lube, other stuff in there. They had taken none of this."
Sources close to the investigation told the I-Team that Matthew LaFountain was the man at Lauren’s apartment, and a neighbor at his listed address in Milford confirmed LaFountain’s identity. But the I-Team was unable to reach the 37-year-old, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing. LaFountain has scrubbed his social media profiles off sites.
For Gray-Smith, LaFountain's actions since the night of Smith-Fields' death are questionable, as he hasn't made any contact with the family. He isn't sure if LaFountain has ever been questioned in his sister's death.
"Anyone who generally cared and they were the last person there, and you know something bad happened, you would have reached out," said Gray-Smith. "I’m sorry for the loss of your sister, your daughter. I was the last one with her and I want you to know what happened."
Gray-Smith was also upset that police said LaFountain was not cooperating with their requests for DNA samples.
"The police said he got a lawyer, and they were supposed to get DNA, but he got a lawyer, and it’s going to be hard to get DNA," he said. "If you have nothing to hide, give your DNA, give them access so they can rule you out if there is nothing wrong you did that night."
The family’s last contact with police was on Jan. 4 at headquarters with their attorney. He says detectives asked for DNA samples from relatives.
"What I believe is that the police failed to collect and preserve that environment from the first day," said attorney Darnell Crosland, who has now filed a notice of claim to sue Bridgeport for negligence. The lawsuit claims key evidence was not initially submitted to the state lab.
Jetter said that race may have had something to do with the police's handling of the case.
"I feel like because he’s a white guy and she’s a Black girl, they’re just throwing it under the rug," Jetter said.
"That night, she was silenced. So we are her voice," said Fields.
The Bridgeport Police Department did not return repeated messages from the I-Team. In previous statements, they have said the investigation is open and active, and that detectives are waiting for a final report from the medical examiner on the cause and manner of death.
In a statement to NBC New York, a Bumble spokesperson said that they are "deeply saddened by news of Lauren Smith-Fields' death and have reached out directly to the family to offer support." The statement goes on to say that the company has "been in contact with law enforcement, but they have not yet requested any information."