Police in Connecticut have opened an investigation into the death of a Black woman who was found dead last month in her Bridgeport apartment after a date with a man she had met on a dating app.
The woman, Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, was found after a man she had met on Bumble called 911 on Dec. 12 to report that he had woken up to find her unresponsive with a nosebleed.
An attorney for Smith-Fields’ family, Darnell Crosland, filed a notice of claim Friday notifying the city of his intent to sue over what he described as the police department’s “racially insensitive” handling of the case.
In his notice of claim, Crossland said Bridgeport police failed to investigate and did not recover critical evidence from the apartment, including a blood-stained bed sheet, a pill and a used condom, until two weeks after Smith-Fields’ death, at the urging of her family. Bridgeport police have not responded to multiple requests for comment about these claims.
The family also said that police told them the man she met online, who is 37 and white, was not a person of interest but did not explain why, and that the initial detective assigned to the case told them to stop calling to inquire about the status of the investigation. Her family said police never notified them of her death and that they learned about it from her landlord.
Mayor Joseph Ganim said Monday that “sensitivity and care is of utmost importance when working with the family of a victim” and the handling of the case has been referred to the police department’s Office of Internal Affairs for an investigation. He said he would work with the police chief to make changes to department practices regarding notifying family members of a death.
The office of the chief medical examiner said Monday that Smith-Fields’ death was accidental, resulting from “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol.”
In a statement Tuesday, Bridgeport police said that as a result of the medical examiner’s report, the Police Narcotics and Vice Division had opened an investigation. They will be assisted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the statement said.
Crossland said that the family is still awaiting the results of an independent autopsy and that the medical examiner’s findings don’t cure the police department’s “lack of process,” but make it worse.
If the police had better investigated the scene and the man Smith-Fields was with, he said, the family would have more answers.
A rally was held in Bridgeport on Sunday, on what would have been Smith-Fields’ 24th birthday, at which her family and several dozen others called for the state to take over the investigation.
Janelle Griffith is a national reporter for NBC News focusing on issues of race and policing.
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