BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) says a woman found dead in Brideport last year died of natural causes.

Brenda Lee Rawls, 53, died Dec. 12, 2021. Police treated her death as “untimely,” and her body was taken to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy. At the time, police said they found no signs of physical trauma or foul play. Rawls’ toxicology results came back negative on Jan. 31, and police said her family was “immediately notified.”

The medical examiner’s office determined Tuesday that Rawls died of cardiovascular disease caused by diabetes. The manner of death has been certified as natural. The Bridgeport police said the medical examiner’s office notified Rawls’ family.

“The Detective Bureau will officially close this case once the OCME legal documents are physically received at the Bridgeport Police Department,” Capt. Kevin Gilleran wrote in a statement.  

Rawls’ family said they were not formally notified by police in a timely manner about her death and were treated with a lack of respect and transparency by the Bridgeport Police Department.

Attorney Darnell Crosland, on behalf of Rawls’ family, released a statement regarding Rawls’ autopsy results.

“The family of Brenda Lee Rawls has reason to question the M.E. report and we are continually disappointed with the way the City of Bridgeport and the State of Connecticut has shown a lack of value for black lives,” Crosland said in the statement.

Crosland noted that the family does not have a physical copy of the medical examiner’s report, though they’ve been told the cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrest.

“We know that there are many causes of cardiac arrest, and the conditions attendant to Brenda Lee Rawls and the unnamed man that she was with has not been investigated thus leaving this family with more questions than answers,” Crosland said.

The family has not heard from Acting Chief Rebeca Garcia, Crosland said, though “the acting chief was quick to issue a press statement closing an investigation she never started.”

“That is unacceptable and insensitive to this grieving family,” Crosland said. “We are demanding that the mayor take charge of this situation as Bridgeport has no leadership, no customer service, and is an embarrassment to Connecticut.”

“I want it done right, and I do not believe Bridgeport, Connecticut, police department can do that. I don’t think they’re competent,” Dorothy Washington, one of Rawls’ sisters said, earlier this month.

Rawls died on the same day as TikTok influencer Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, in Bridgeport. 

According to the medical examiner, Smith-Fields died from “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol.” The medical examiner’s office ruled her death accidental.

The family of Smith-Fields claims Bridgeport police never notified them of her death. A detective eventually asked them to stop calling, they said.

In response to Gilleran’s statement, City Councilwoman Maria Pereira said Rawls’ family will request an independent autopsy as “they have no faith in this outcome.”

The autopsy doesn’t excuse the conduct of the BPD in failing to notify the family of Brenda’s death, the disrespect they showed Brenda’s family and that they did not know the cause of death when they failed to treat the location as a potential crime scene.

You further state “The Detective Bureau will officially close this case once the OCME legal documents are physically received at the Bridgeport Police Department.” The BPD cannot “close a case” or investigation that they never initiated in the first place.

City Councilwoman Maria Pereira

Last month, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim directed Deputy Chief James Baraja to place the two detectives involved in the cases on administrative leave. Detectives Angel Llanos and Kevin Cronin will be on administrative leave until the internal investigation has been completed. 

“I am extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and found the actions taken up until this point with regards to these two cases unacceptable,” Ganim said in a statement in January. “I want to be clear to members of the public and the department that insensitivity, disrespect in action, or deviation from policy will not be tolerated by me or others in this administration.”