A detective involved in the death investigation of Lauren Smith-Fields has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal police probe, Bridgeport's mayor said Sunday.
Questions into the 23-year-old's death and the police department's handling of her case have swirled in recent weeks as the Connecticut woman's family demands answers into the dating app death.
Bridgeport police started a criminal investigation into her death last week, more than one month after she was found inside her apartment and after the medical examiner ruled that she died from a combination of fentanyl, alcohol and other drugs. The DEA will also be helping with the investigation.
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The Bridgeport mayor said the two detectives are facing discipline for their “lack of sensitivity to the public and their failure to follow police procedure in the handling of these two matters." A supervisor also abruptly retired.
“The Bridgeport Police Department has high standards for officer sensitivity especially in matters involving the death of a family member," Ganim said. "It is an unaccepted failure that policies were not followed.
"To the families, friends, and all who care about human decency that should be shown in these situations in this case, by members of the police department, I am very sorry.”
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.
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 medical examiner previously determined that Lauren Smith-Fields died of "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol," according to the medical examiner's office, and her death is being ruled an accident.
Bridgeport police said last week that the Bridgeport Police Narcotics and Vice Division opened a criminal investigation as a result of that report and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will be assisting in the investigation. Police said the Detective Bureau’s investigation will remain open as intelligence transitions to the Narcotics and Vice Division.
Police said the Bridgeport Emergency Operations Center received a call on Dec. 12 about an untimely death and found that Smith-Fields passed away unexpectedly. The Bridgeport Police Department Detective Bureau took charge of the investigation.
“The Bridgeport Police Department continues to treat the untimely death of Lauren Smith-Fields as an active investigation as we are now refocusing our attention and efforts to the factors that lead to her untimely death. We have engaged several partners to assist with this portion of the investigation. Once again, we offer our sincerest condolences to the friends and family of Lauren Smith-Fields and ask that anyone with information to please contact 203 576-TIPS,” Police Chief Rebeca Garcia said in a statement.
The disciplinary action against the detectives comes as the family of Brenda Lee Rawls claims she was killed on the same day, in the same neighborhood, after a romantic encounter with a man.
"I feel that they've mistreated us, they don't have any regard for us," said Deirdre Owen, Rawls' sister. She said that the officers are "getting a pass" by being put on leave with pay.
The families of both women said that police didn't initially contact them and refused to provide any information.
"(Police) are supposed to be giving me information: how they found her, what position was she in, did you take pictures, did you search the premises. You're supposed to be telling me," said Angela Martin, another sister of Rawls'.
The medical examiner has not ruled a cause of death in Rawls' case.
Office of Internal Affairs Investigation
On Monday, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said the city's Office of Internal Affairs will conduct a "full and fair investigation" into the handling of her death.
"Sensitivity and care is of utmost importance when working with the family of a victim. There is no tolerance for anything less than respect and sensitivity for family members and their loss," Ganim said in a statement.
Ganim also announced that he would work with the police chief to make changes to the police department's policies and practices when it comes to 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," Ganim said.
The mayor said, "There is no tolerance for anything less than respect and sensitivity for family members and their loss."
Family's Quest for Answers
Lauren’s family has said they were outraged and disgusted at how they say the Bridgeport Police Department has handled the investigation.
They told NBC Connecticut their nightmare started when they did not hear from her.
Lauren's mother and brother went to her apartment on Dec. 13 and saw a note on the door.
The family said the note had a number on it and said, 'If you're looking for Lauren' call the number. The number belonged to the landlord who later told the family that Lauren had died.
The family said they had to call police and the detective about the case and didn't get confirmation about Lauren's death until they reached out to the Bridgeport Police Department.
Bridgeport Police previously issued this statement to NBC Connecticut:
"On December 12, 2021, the Bridgeport Emergency Operations Center received a call for service regarding an untimely death. Upon police arrival, it was found that Ms. Laruen-Smith-Fields passed away unexpectedly. This incident is currently being investigated by the Bridgeport Police Department's Detective Bureau. This investigation remains open and active. The Detective Bureau is awaiting the final report from the Chief Medical Examiner's Office for cause and manner of death of Ms. Smith-Fields. The Bridgeport Police Department offers it's sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Lauren Smith-Fields. We encourage anyone with information regarding this incident to contact either Detective-Sergeant Joseph Morales at 203-581-5219 or the Bridgeport Police TIPS line at 203-576-8477."
The family said once they reached out to the detective, he confirmed that Lauren had passed away and she had met a man through the dating app known as "Bumble."
Once her family found out about the man, they asked the detective about the man who Lauren met through the dating app, but the family said the detective's response was shocking.
"When I asked the officer about the guy, he said he was a very nice guy and they weren't looking into him anymore," Smith-Fields' brother, Lakeem Jetter, said. "It was almost like he was sticking up for him and it seemed weird to hear that from a detective."
After the family continued to ask questions about the investigation, they said they began running into issues.
"He told me directly on the phone to stop calling him and hung up in my face, it was just like total disrespect, like that's what you tell a family that's going through grief and trying to find answers?" asked Jetter. "The way they talked to me, the way they have talked to the family, how they treated my daughter, they treated her like she was nobody, like she was not important," said Shantell Smith.
The family said each time they reached out to the police department, they felt anger and frustration. Those emotions and search for answers led them to hiring attorney Darnell Crosland in an effort to get justice for Lauren.
Attorney Crosland told NBC Connecticut the family has been treated unfairly throughout this last month and they deserve justice and motions that they plan to hire an independent investigator.