Two Connecticut Officers Suspended Over Handling of Women's Deaths

The mayor put the officers on leave, citing a “lack of sensitivity” in their handling of the cases of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, who died in Bridgeport, Conn., on the same day.

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Two police detectives assigned to the cases of two women who died in Bridgeport, Conn., have been suspended from their duties and put on administrative leave, effective immediately, the city’s mayor announced late Sunday.

The detectives, Kevin Cronin and Angel Llanos, were assigned to the cases of Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, and Brenda Lee Rawls, 53, both of whom died on Dec. 12. The women’s families have said that they learned of the deaths not through the Police Department, but through a landlord and a neighbor, respectively.

The families have also said that they have struggled to get details about the deaths of their loved ones from the Department. Detective Llanos oversaw the handling of both cases, the Police Department said.

The mayor, Joseph P. Ganim, said in a statement that Detectives Cronin and Llanos had showed a “lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy” in dealing with the grieving families.

“Insensitivity, disrespect in action, or deviation from policy will not be tolerated by me or others in this administration,” Mr. Ganim said.

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The detectives will remain suspended and on leave until an internal investigation has been completed and any necessary disciplinary action is taken, Mr. Ganim said, adding that both cases were under “active investigation.”

Ms. Smith-Fields died in her apartment after a first date with a man she had met on Bumble, a dating app. The mayor’s announcement came after the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said last week that she died from an overdose of fentanyl, prescription medication and alcohol, and ruled her death an accident. The Police Department opened a criminal investigation into her death after the medical examiner’s report was released.

A case that has received somewhat less attention is that of Ms. Rawls, who like Ms. Smith-Fields was Black and whose family also said the Police Department did not notify it of her death.

Ms. Rawls, 53, had visited a friend who lived nearby on Dec. 11, according to news reports. The following day, after he struggled to wake her up, she was pronounced dead. The family did not find out until two days later, on Dec. 14, when, after conducting their own investigation, they learned where she had gone and went to the man’s house.

“We want to know why our sister was treated like a Jane Doe,” Dorothy Rawls Washington, a sister of Ms. Rawls, told News12 Connecticut last month. “Nobody notified us. It’s almost like they want it to disappear, and for us to disappear.”

The women’s families have shared their stories on social media, and they and their supporters have called on public officials to conduct thorough investigations. Amateur sleuths have tried to piece together what happened to the women; the hashtag #laurensmithfields has been viewed more than 43 million times on TikTok.

Darnell Crosland, the lawyer representing both families, noted that both women had died more than a month ago, and their families have had to “grieve and advocate for justice at the same time.”

He added: “That is unfair and unacceptable.”

But Mr. Crosland said that the mayor’s announcement was a “step in the right direction.”

Ms. Smith-Fields’s mother, Shantell Fields, said she didn’t find out about her daughter’s death until a day and a half later, on the evening of Dec. 13 — and she heard the news not from the police, but from her daughter’s landlord.

Ms. Fields said the landlord put the family in touch with Detective Cronin, who offered few details over the phone and hung up on them in a subsequent call.

“My son talked to him and was asking him what happened, and Cronin said that she met a white guy on Bumble, ‘but don’t worry about that, he’s a really nice guy,’” Ms. Fields said.

Detective Cronin said he would meet Ms. Fields and her son at Ms. Smith-Fields’s apartment, Ms. Fields said. They waited more than an hour and a half, and when they called him again, Detective Cronin said “stop calling me,” Ms. Fields recalled.

The family went into Ms. Smith-Fields’s apartment to collect her belongings, and found a used condom, a pill and bloody bedsheets. The family had to beg the Police Department to collect the evidence, Mr. Crosland said.

Maria Pereira, a Bridgeport City Council member, said she was dumbstruck by the families’ stories, and the apparent slow response from city leaders.

“We have two Black families,” Ms. Pereira said. “I don’t even know where to begin on how you are not contacting families. You have their wallets, their cellphones. What? This is outrageous behavior.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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