Officers on leave after mayor says he's 'extremely disappointed' following investigation into deaths of Black women

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim expressed his condolences Sunday to the families of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, saying in a statement he is “extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department.”
Smith-Fields, 23, and Rawls, 53, both died on December 12, 2021 — but unlike Smith-Fields, who’s 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.
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The family of Smith-Fields says the department mishandled its investigation into her death, which began after a man who she recently met on the dating app Bumble called police from her residence, police said.
Smith-Fields was found unresponsive, and a medical examiner ruled her death was accidental and caused by “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol.”
Police are focusing their attention on “the factors that led to her untimely death,” acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia said in an earlier statement.
The police did not notify Smith-Fields’ family of her death, an attorney for the family said, and instead they found out a day later when visiting Smith-Fields’ home and finding a note from the landlord on her apartment door.
Rawls’ family also says police failed to notify them of her death in a timely manner and claims initial police responses were dismissive and insensitive.
Dorothy Washington, Rawls’ sister, told CNN family members initially learned of her death from an acquaintance who said he found her unresponsive and could not wake her. Washington said the man told the family Rawls’ body was taken by a police officer and coroner.
After multiple calls to police, hospitals and funeral homes, the family finally received confirmation of her death when reaching out to the state’s medical examiner, who had already performed an autopsy, Washington said.
“It’s almost like they’re not aware of her death, or they just don’t care and that made us angry,” Washington said of city and police officials. “She was raised and born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, paid her taxes, voted and they treated like she was nothing. Like she was roadkill.”
CNN reached out to the Bridgeport Police Department for comment.

Officers face discipline, mayor says

Ganim found the actions taken by the police department up to this point “unacceptable,” he said Sunday, and he put two officers who are currently the subject of a Bridgeport police internal affairs investigation on administrative leave.
“The Bridgeport Police Department has high standards for officer sensitivity especially in matters involving the death of a family member. It is an unacceptable failure if policies were not followed,” Ganim said in the statement. “To the families, friends and all who care about the human decency that should be shown in these situations in this case by members of the Bridgeport Police Department, I am very sorry.”
The mayor directed Deputy Chief James Baraja to take disciplinary action against the officers “for lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy” in the handling of the Smith-Fields and Rawls cases, according to the statement.
Ganim also announced the supervisory officer who was in charge of overseeing the Smith-Fields and Rawls cases retired from the department Friday.
The deaths of Smith-Fields and Rawls are still under investigation and have been reassigned to other members of the Bridgeport Police Department, Ganim said.
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