The family of a 23-year-old Connecticut woman who died under mysterious circumstances is suing a police department for its alleged mishandling of the investigation.
Lauren Smith-Fields, a Black woman, was found dead in her apartment on Dec. 12, but more than a month later, answers to how she died remain a mystery.
According to a Bridgeport Police Department report, Smith-Fields was drinking tequila at her apartment with Matthew LaFountain, a white man whom she met on the dating app Bumble, when she became ill and went to vomit. The two continued drinking into the night when Smith-Fields got a text and stepped outside. The incident report, reviewed by Rolling Stone, said she’d gone outside to get something from her brother, then went to the bathroom for several minutes after she returned.
Her date, LaFountain, later told an officer “he thought it was odd, but didn’t feel it was his place to say anything as he didn’t know her that well,” according to the police report.
LaFountain called police the next morning after he discovered blood coming out of Smith-Fields’ right nostril and saw she wasn’t breathing.
Her family said they found inconsistencies in the report, including that the 23-year-old was intoxicated when she went outside to see her brother, Lakeem Jetter.
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The police report also doesn’t match the story of the last relative said to see Smith-Fields alive that night.
“I haven’t texted my sister since December fourth,” Jetter said, recounting the night of December 11th, when he called Smith-Fields to bring out his basket of clothes he was picking up. “I didn’t know that anybody was in there. She came out and she was out there for like 10-15 minutes and she walked back into the house. She looked normal. She didn’t look sick, she didn’t look tired, she didn’t look drunk. I’m her second older brother, if I would have seen her drunk I would’ve said ‘What are you doing?’ … ‘Why do you look like that?’”
The family also said police did not collect evidence in the apartment. Shantell Fields, Smith-Fields’ mother, told Yahoo News that she found a condom with semen inside her daughter’s apartment, along with a pill that the family believes may be a sedative.
Smith-Fields’ brother, Jetter, told Rolling Stone other pieces of evidence appeared uncollected.
“The first night we saw cups there, flipped plates and the lube. The cops didn’t take any of the cups to test the liquor,” Jetter told the publication. “There was a big stain of blood in the middle of her bed, with streaks going to the right side.”
The family also claims Bridgeport Police were unprofessional in their handling of the investigation, and told the family to stop calling the department. The family’s attorney, Darnell Crosland, said Detective Kevin Cronin failed to properly notify Fields of her daughter’s death, and that LaFountain has not been questioned as a suspect.
“There’s a typical protocol that’s followed when you have a situation like this,” Crosland told Yahoo News. “If you have a husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend call the police because one of them is dead, typically the person who is surviving is pivotal to the investigation. Most times they are looked at as a suspect because they were the last person with the deceased, and in this particular case, the police have been very hesitant to even call this person a ‘person of interest.’”
The family announced Sunday they would be suing the department.
“We’re filing a lawsuit here in Bridgeport to compel them to process this case, to protect this family, and to give them the equal rights they deserve under the Connecticut Constitution,” Crosland told NBC Connecticut.
The family has set up a GoFundMe to hire a private investigator to look into the death.
“In the beginning of this nightmare out family was extremely mistreated by The Bridgeport Police Department who as we stated initially declined to investigate Lauren’s untimely death,” the family wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Although BDP has now decided to begin to conduct an investigation, our family would like to conduct one of our own!”
Federal authorities have arrested five Bridgeport officials in the last two years, including the former police chief, Armando J. Perez, who was sentenced to prison last year for rigging his own hiring process to ensure he became the city’s top cop.