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Insensitive and Inadequate

Posted 03/03/2022 by Eleanor Benson

An image of Shantell Fields at a protest demanding justice for her daughter. photo by Ned Gerard via Associated Press

Lauren Smith-Fields was found dead in her apartment; her family and the public had to advocate for acknowledgment and justice. 

Lauren Smith-Fields was a young black woman studying to become a physical therapist. She was highly active on social media, posting videos and pictures on Instagram and TikTok. On December 12, 2021, Lauren Smith-Fields was found dead in her apartment in Bridgeport, Connecticut by her Bumble date. Though it has been ruled an accidental overdose, her family has adamantly denied that conclusion. Based upon the actions of the Bridgeport police, her family expresses that there was an immense amount of mishandling of the case. Though the case is still ongoing, here is what it is known.

According to the incident report, Smith-Fields had been on a date with a 37-year old white man she had met through the dating app Bumble on the evening of December 11th. The man said that the date consisted of some food, casual drinking, and a movie. During the date, he reported that Smith-Fields said she had to meet her brother outside, and after she returned, she was inside the bathroom for ten to fifteen minutes. According to her date, she fell asleep on the couch during the movie, and he moved her to the bed. He fell asleep beside her and she was still asleep and snoring when he awoke at 3 am to go to the bathroom. However, when he awoke at 6:30 am, he reported to the police that “she was lying on her right side, blood was coming out of her right nostril onto the bed, and she was not breathing,” the man then called the police. The responding officer found Smith-Fields lying on the bedroom floor with dried blood around her nose. She was pronounced dead at 6:59 am, and the medic said she had not been alive for at least an hour.

On December 13th, after two days of radio silence, Shantell Fields went to her daughter’s apartment. There, she found a note on the door that stated, “If you are looking for Lauren, call this number.” The number led her to the landlord, who informed her of her daughter’s death. However, according to Fields, she was not notified of her daughter’s death by the police until she called them. When she did call the police, she was met with an abrasive detective who gave her little information and hung up abruptly during the subsequent phone call. According to the family’s lawyer, they begged Detective Kevin Cronin to collect evidence at the scene but were ultimately dismissed. The information the detective had given Smith-Fields’s family was that she had been on a Bumble date the night of her death with an older man. However, the detective did not feel that he was a person of interest because he seemed like a “nice guy.” 

Cronin stated that he would come to the apartment in a half-hour, however, after waiting over an hour and making multiple phone calls to Cronin, Smith-Fields’s family entered the apartment to pack up her belongings. Inside the apartment, they found bloody bed sheets, lube, a used condom, and an unidentified pill, none of which was initially taken in as evidence. According to the autopsy report, the cause of death was an accidental overdose, which her family and family’s lawyer, Darnell Crosland, vigorously contested. The criminal investigation opened into Smith-Fields’s death is ongoing; however, Cronin has been suspended and removed from the case. 

Unfortunately, Cronin was not the only officer who was suspended because of the mishandling of a black woman’s death. Brenda Lee Rawls also died on the same day as  Smith-Fields’s passing. Her case was headed by Detective Llanos, the supervising officer for Cronin. Both of these detectives are currently suspended for their mishandling of the cases. According to the family of Rawls, “we had to do our investigation,” said Dorothy Washington, Rawls’s sister, “the police never notified us of her death.” These statements are parallel to those made by Smith-Fields’s family. The mayor of Bridgeport, Joseph P. Ganmin, ultimately decided to suspend both of these detectives because of the insensitivity shown to the family and a failure to follow police policy.

Just five months after the infamous Gabby Petito case, people can not help but make comparisons. According to many within the public, these two cases have reignited a spark in discussing “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” The term was coined to show the unbalanced focus on missing or dead white women, while women of color in similar situations are often ignored. Based upon the police’s response to the deaths of these women, a complete contrast to what occurred during the Petito case, the lack of sensitivity displayed is hard to ignore. In addition, mass media outlets have shown either a minimal or complete lack of updates on the case. Crosland stated that the families had to “grieve and advocate for justice simultaneously. That is unfair and unacceptable.”

No arrests or rulings have been made on the Smith-Fields case, and it is currently an ongoing investigation, according to the Bridgeport Chief of Police. Her Bumble date from the night of her death is still not considered a suspect. The public still waits on the family’s independent autopsy to determine the cause of death. Smith-Fields’ family has recently stated their plan to sue Ganmin, the police chief, and multiple detectives for racial insensitivity. Details of the case were provided by the New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, and NBC Connecticut.