BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — A Bridgeport family is claiming the police department was negligent in their investigation of a young woman’s death.
Family, friends and the community came together for a rally Sunday to demand answers from officials and honor the life of 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields, a social media influencer.
The march and rally, dubbed “Justice For Lauren,” began at the Bridgeport Police Department and ended at the city government center. Sunday marked what would have been Smith-Fields’ 24th birthday.
Bridgeport police said Smith-Fields died “unexpectedly” on Dec. 12, 2021, at her home on Plymouth Street, Her parents, Shantell Fields and Everett Smith, said they had been trying to get in touch with Smith-Fields and didn’t find out about her death until they discovered a note on her front door from her landlord two days later.
According to the incident report obtained by News 8, a man Smith-Fields met on the dating app, Bumble, told officers he woke up next to Smith-Fields to find that “blood was coming out of her right nostril” and “she was not breathing.” The responding officer describes when he arrived, the man appeared “frantic” and was “trembling and visibly shaken.” The documents explain that the man told them he only knew Smith-Fields for three days and she got sick while they were drinking the night before. He also told them at one point Smith-Fields was in the bathroom for 10 to 15 minutes, but eventually came out and fell asleep.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner revealed Smith-Fields’ cause of death Monday. According to the OCME, Smith-Fields died from “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol.” The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death accidental.
“Now to find out that all of these substances are in their daughter’s body that basically took her life, they’re so angry right now,” said Attorney Darnell Crosland, Lauren Smith-Fields’ family lawyer. “This looks further like a manslaughter. It looks more like a murder, and if the police don’t start acting fast, we’re going to have a real big problem on our hands.”
The police report said they identified Smith-Fields with mail, a credit card, U.S. passport and cell phone at the scene.
However, Smith-Fields’ family said investigators did not collect key evidence from the home as described in a notice of claim to sue the city, filed by Crosland on Friday. According to the claim, two weeks after Smith-Fields’ death, Crosland’s office confirmed with the State Laboratory they never received physical evidence from Smith-Fields’ home, including a pill used as a sedative, a condom, and “a round blood stain in the middle of [Smith-Fields’] bed.” The notice also states police refuse to interview Smith-Fields’ Bumble date, the last person who saw her alive.
“Find out whether he has a drug connection to someone,” Crosland said.
Smith-Fields’ father told News 8 about a phone call with the initial detective on the case regarding that man.
“When we asked about this guy, [the detective said] ‘he was a nice guy, there was no need to investigate,'” Smith said.
“All we keep getting is doors closed in our faces and empty promises,” Smith said.
Overall, the claim argues investigators were negligent in Smith-Fields’ death and violated the civil rights of both the young woman and her family.
“We march to send a message to the city that enough is enough,” Crosland said at the rally Sunday.
In a statement released to News 8, the Bridgeport Police Department said the investigation is active and ongoing, adding that upon receipt of outstanding reports, including the final findings from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, they will release a final report.
Earlier in the month, police and the city released this statement:
The Bridgeport Police Department takes these concerns very seriously. The Command Staff of the Detective Bureau is reviewing the handling of this case to ensure that best practices were and are being followed. It is imperative to note that the death of Lauren Smith-Fields remains an ongoing investigation. Our department extends its deepest condolences to the family of Lauren.Bridgeport Police Department
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim released the following statement Monday afternoon:
First, I would like to restate the city’s condolences to the family and friends of Lauren Smith-Fields, and to the many caring individuals who have reached out seeking answers for Lauren. I recognize that the family and the community is experiencing a lot of pain because of the loss of a young woman in addition to unanswered questions and concerns about the way the matter has been handled.
First, 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. To that end, this matter has been referred to the Office of Internal Affairs to conduct a full and fair investigation.
Second, I share concerns echoed by many about the amount of time and manner a family is informed of a loss. Death notifications should be done in a manner that illustrates dignity for the deceased and respect and compassion for the family. Therefore, I will work with the Chief of Police to make appropriate changes here in Bridgeport now our department’s policies and practices regarding 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.
Finally, I have contacted the State Medical Examiner to request assistance in expediting this matter so that the investigation can proceed and detectives may provide a comprehensive report to family and parents of Lauren Smith-Fields.
I offer my support in bringing closure to the family during this terrible tragedy.Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim
Smith-Fields’ family was in attendance at the rally Sunday and emotionally spoke to the crowd as they remembered her life and called for an independent investigation into her death by the state.
“No one is going to discard my daughter like she is rubbish,” Shantell Fields said.
Smith spoke out on what he said has been a lack of transparency and humanity from officials.
“To lose your daughter, your only daughter, your baby girl, at such a ripe age of 23-years-old and to be treated the way we [were] treated by the Bridgeport police station and the department is unacceptable,” Smith said.
Bridgeport City Council Member Maria Pereira of the 138th District, where Smith-Fields lived, was one of a few local leaders at the event Sunday.
“Where is this humanity? Where is the decency? Where is the compassion for what this family is going through?” Pereira said.
Smith-Fields’ brothers, Tavar Gray-Smith and Lakeem Jetter also shared their love for their sister.
“She was a bubbly spirit, kind-hearted, funny,” Gray-Smith said.
“My sister’s supposed to have breath from her lungs today. She’s supposed to be out here with us today,” Jetter said.
No matter what happens, Smith-Fields’ parents will keep speaking out for change.
“Today and forever I will always be her voice. I will always stand strong for her,” Fields said.
Smith-Fields’ family also wants a bill in her honor to notify families of death in a timely manner, and they’re having an independent autopsy conducted on her body.
Senator Dennis Bradley from Lauren’s district said he just submitted a bill on this matter:
“Will require by statute that every police department within 24 hours either communicate or make a clear and present attempt to communicate with family members within 24 hours.”
The Bridgeport Police Department encourages anyone with information regarding Smith-Fields’ case to contact them at 203-581-5219 or the anonymous TIPS Line at 203-576-TIPS.