Mayor slams cops over investigation of mysterious deaths of two black women who died just hours apart in Connecticut while on dates, as their families seek answers, two months after their deaths
Bridgeport mayor Joseph Ganim, Sunday announced suspension of two detectives Angel Llanos and Kevin Cronin
He slammed the officers for ‘unacceptable failures’ and ‘insensitivity’ while investigating deaths of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Rawls and expressed extreme disappointment with the police command
Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, died on Dec 12, in her apt, after a date with a man she’d just met on the dating app Bumble
Brenda Lee Rawls, 53, also died on Dec. 12, after telling her family she was going to the home of a male acquaintance down the road
Medical Examiner has been criticized for ruling that Smith-Fields died of an ‘accidental fentanyl overdose,’ before it has been determined how the drugs ended up in her system
Smith-Fields’ date, Matthew LaFountain, 37, was not named a suspect or person of interest in Smith-Fields’ death and he maintains his innocence
Rawls died in the home of a male acquaintance, who later told family he found her unresponsive and called police – cause of death is yet to be established
Families of both women have accused police of failure to notify them of their deaths and failure to conduct proper investigations
Mayor’s statement was released two days after Det. Llanos, the supervisory officer in charge of overseeing Smith-Fields and Rawls’ cases, retired from the dept.
A Connecticut mayor has suspended two police detectives for their handling of investigations into the deaths of two black women and harshly criticized the leadership of the local police department for an ‘unacceptable failure’ and ‘insensitivity.’
Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim on Sunday released a strongly worded statement, announcing that detectives Angel Llanos and Kevin Cronin were being placed on administrative leave effective immediately pending the outcome of an Internal Affairs Investigation.
‘I want you to know that I am extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and find actions taken up to this point unacceptable,’ the mayor stated.
Ganim added that the two cops could face disciplinary actions ‘for lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy’ in the handling of the investigations into the deaths of Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, and Brenda Rawls, 53, both black women, on the same day last month.
The mayor’s statement was released two days after Llanos, who was the supervisory officer in charge of overseeing Smith-Fields and Rawls’ cases, retired from the force.
Smith-Fields was found unresponsive in her apartment on December 12, 2021, while on a date with a man she had met on Bumble. Last week, the state medical examiner ruled her death an accident caused by a fentanyl overdose in combination with other medications and alcohol. The following day, a criminal investigation was launched into her death.
Smith-Fields’ date, Matthew LaFountain, who is white, has not been charged with any crimes, or named a suspect or a person of interest in her death. His attorney said his client is cooperating with the investigation and ‘maintains his innocence.’
Ganim said he was ‘extremely disappointed’ in the police department’s leadership and found its actions related to the death investigations ‘unacceptable’.
Smith-Fields’ family and their attorney have criticized the police for failing to notify them of the college student’s death in a timely manner, and said that a detective told a relative to stop calling him for updates, and hung up after saying that LaFountain was ‘a very nice guy.’
The family’s attorney Darnell Crosland, has signaled his intent to sue the city over the police department’s ‘racially insensitive’ handling of the Smith-Field’s death.
Crosland also has publicly criticized the state medical examiner for ruling Smith-Fields’ death an accident before it has been determined how the drugs, including fentanyl, ended up in her system. The 23-year-old Crosland said, does have a history of using narcotics of any kind.
Rawls also died on December 12, after telling her family that she was going over to the home of a male acquaintance, down the road from her house in Bridgeport.
Her family likewise claimed that they were left in the dark about her death by the police, who they allege have not returned any of their calls or messages. They said they learned that Rawls had died only when they contacted the state medical examiner after two days.
More than seven weeks later, Rawls’ family are still waiting to learn her cause and manner of death.
Families of both women attended a rally in Bridgeport on Sunday, which would have been Smith-Fields’ 24th birthday, to demand accountability from the police and the city.2015: Officer Kevin Cronin recognized by Bridgeport Mayor.
‘It’s almost like they’re not aware of her death, or they just don’t care and that made us angry,’ Dorothy Washington, Rawls’ sister said.
‘She was raised and born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, paid her taxes, voted and they treated like she was nothing. Like she was roadkill.’
Just hours after the rally, Mayor Ganim released the statement slamming the leadership of the city’s police department.
‘The Bridgeport Police Department has high standards for officer sensitivity especially in matters involving the death of a family member,’ he wrote. ‘It is an unacceptable failure if policies were not followed.’
The mayor offered an apology to the deceased women’s family members and friends, ‘and to all who care about human decency.’
Ganim continued: ‘I want to be clear to members of the public and the department that insensitivity, disrespect in action, or deviation from policy ill not be tolerated by me or others in this administration. My disappointment and demand for accountability in these and any other matter brought to my attention will remain until all the questions are answered to the satisfaction of all.’
Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, a student at Norwalk Community College, was found dead on December 12 at her apartment in Bridgeport, where she and her Bumble date, Matthew LaFountain, 37, had spent the night drinking.
LaFountain, who works as a design engineer at Connecticut-based Times Microwave Systems, has not been named a suspect or a person of interest in connection with Smith-Fields’ death.
He has been cooperative and ‘maintains his innocence,’ his attorney said last week.
LaFountain was the one who found Smith-Fields unresponsive on her blood-stained bed and called the police.
He told detectives that he and Smith-Fields spent the night drinking alcohol, eating, playing games and watching a movie. At one point during the date, LaFountain said the 23-year-old went downstairs to pick something up from her brother Lakeem Jetter. After returning to the apartment, she spent 10-15 minutes in the bathroom.
Jetter later told Rolling Stone that he went by his sister’s apartment to pick up a basket of clothes from her, and he said she did not look intoxicated.
The family says they were not notified of Smith-Fields’ by the police for several days. Her brother said when he called the detective in charge of the case, asking questions about LaFountain, he was allegedly told that the 37-year-old engineer, who is white, was a ‘very nice guy.
Attorney Darnell Crosland, representing the woman’s family, said Smith-Fields did not take drugs of any kind, let alone a combination of fentanyl and allergy medication washed down with alcohol. He lashed out at the medical examiner’s officer for ruling her death an accident before it has been determine how the drugs ended up in her system.
The second woman, Brenda Rawls, 53, was found dead on the same day at Smith-Fields, and also in Bridgeport, after telling family she was meeting a man near her home.
When she didn’t respond to her relatives’ texts for two days, they went to the man’s home and learned from him that he found her unresponsive on December 12 and called the police. However, while Smith-Fields’ death is now being investigated as a crime, Rawls’ cause and manner of death are still pending, according to the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Rawls’ sister said the police never reached out to the family to notify them of her death. They called a funeral home to check if Rawls was there, and were told by a funeral director to call the state medical examiner’s office, where her body had been all along.
Rawls family sent four letters enumerating their complaints to Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim and Police Chief Rebeca Garcia – neither party has responded.
In the letters, Angel Rawls Martin, another sister, writes that she spoke to a Bridgeport Police Department sergeant multiple times – and that he said that he was unsure whether police searched Rawls’ apartment or the residence she was found, saying that it wasn’t written in their police report and that they had ‘dropped the ball’ on the investigation.
She was given the name of a detective to contact, who she said has yet to respond to four or five messages that she’s left.
‘They treated my sister Brenda like she was a Jane Doe,’ Washington said. ‘Like they found her on the side of the road with no identification. They have no respect.’