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Families of Smith-Fields, Rawls demand reform from Bridgeport Police Commissioners

Shantell Fields, Lauren Smith-Fields' mother, stands with family members during a protest rally in front of the Morton Government Center, in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 23, 2022. Smith-Fields was found dead in her Bridgeport apartment in December and her family and friends marched in her memory on Sunday, which would have been her 24th birthday.
Ned Gerard
Hearst Connecticut Media
Shantell Fields, mother of Lauren Smith-Fields, stands with family members during a protest in front of the Morton Government Center in Bridgeport, Conn., Jan. 23, 2022. Smith-Fields was found dead in her Bridgeport apartment in December, and her family and friends marched in her memory on the 23rd, which would have been her 24th birthday.

The families of two Black women who died in December addressed Bridgeport’s Board of Police Commissioners Tuesday night, calling for acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia to step down and for Mayor Joe Ganim to request that the U.S. Department of Justice “take over” their case.

The commissioners began the meeting by immediately going into closed-door executive session for nearly an hour. When they returned, they opened the floor to comments from both women’s families, including the Smith-Fields family’s attorney, Darnell Crosland.

Everyone who spoke criticized what they described as the police’s failure to track down the two women’s next-of-kin to notify them of their deaths, and failure to open a criminal investigation. Crosland argued that both cases should have started out as criminal investigations by default and that the male acquaintances who called in each death should have been treated as suspects.

Smith Fields’ relatives said the detective at the scene of her death (who they say is Garcia’s nephew) brushed off their questions about the man, saying he was “a nice guy.”

“You let the guy just walk away because he was ‘a very good guy.’ Why?” said Shantell Fields, Lauren’s mother, summing up police response. “If he was Black ,he’d still be in jail right now. But because he’s a ‘very good white guy,’ he got to go home to his family, while my daughter laid there dead.”

“If Lauren was a Caucasian blond-haired girl, y’all would scour the earth to find out what happened to her. But she is a regular Black woman, so they consider her as garbage,” Fields said. “And if the white guy was found dead in her apartment, she’d be in jail right now.”

Smith-Fields’ family said it took them two days to locate their daughter after they realized she was missing. After discovering the police did not collect any evidence, they said they gathered it themselves and handed it over to the police, including a used condom and bloody bedsheets. They said Crosland, their attorney, calls frequently to check on the status of the evidence, and some of it has yet to be filed.

Smith-Fields’ relatives also criticized the department’s refusal to update them on the progress of the investigation. After pressing them for information for weeks, they finally secured a meeting with the lead detective, who Crosland says “screamed and yelled” at the family when they asked why police weren’t treating the death as a potential criminal case.

Dorothy Washington, the sister of Brenda Lee Rawls, says her experience at the same precinct at the same time was similar when following up on the death of her sister.

“My family has no more information than the first day where we found out where Brenda was. That’s crazy,” Washington said. “I want to know what happened to my sister. To this day, we know nothing about my sister’s autopsy. Why wasn’t the scene of her apartment swept for evidence? Was the male acquaintance questioned?”

Members of both families called for acting Police Chief Garcia to be removed from her position. Garcia sent the families a private letter that the Smith-Fields family says did not address any specifics about how police would prevent this from happening in the future.

Both families also demanded the DOJ step in and “take over” the investigation.

“I want closure. I want a thorough investigation. I want it done right. And I don’t believe Bridgeport can do that,” Washington said.

The police commissioners did not respond to any of the families’ comments except to give their condolences.

The Bridgeport Police Department and mayor’s office did not immediately return requests for comment.

Updated: February 15, 2022 at 10:41 PM EST
We received the following comment from Bridgeport mayor Joe Ganim's office shortly after publishing this piece:

“I want to restate my condolences to the families, mother, sisters of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls. I have heard the deep sadness, loss, and frustration from both families. I am re-affirming my continued commitment to get the answers that they deserve, and so that they may each properly grieve the loss of their valued family member and loved one.”

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