By: Hailey Baloutch
Outrage has sparked over the Bridgeport Police Department’s mishandling of the investigation into 23-year old Lauren Smith-Fields’s death.
Smith-Fields, who was studying to become a physical therapist at Norwalk Community College, was reported dead by a 37-year old white man she had met on the popular dating app Bumble, as reported by the Stamford Advocate.
Upon arriving at the scene, the Bridgeport Police Department allegedly did not collect vital evidence, detain the man for questioning, or even notify her family of her death. Smith-Fields’s family has filed a lawsuit against the city of Bridgeport for failing to investigate suspicious circumstances and collect evidence that would be vital in determining foul play.
When the Bridgeport Police Department initially arrived at Smith-Fields’s apartment, they immediately ruled out the older man as a suspect in her death. They claimed that he was “a really nice guy,” as justification for the lack of investigation into his involvement, according to the New York Times. The detective who made this statement, Kevin Cronin, has since been placed on leave.
Neglecting to detain the last man to see her alive for questioning was the first misstep in the investigation, and they then failed to collect forensic evidence from the apartment, including a sedative pill, a used condom, and bloodstained sheets, which were eventually found by Smith-Fields’s family while they were cleaning.
The family had to call the police department and request that they take these items as evidence. Although they were collected, the forensic lab never received these suspicious items from the police department, rendering them unable to to be used as crucial forensic evidence, according to Darnell Crosland, the Smith-Fields’ family attorney.
The police department’s failure to collect these items as well as to submit them for testing in an appropriate period of time are enormous missteps that irreversibly harmed the investigation. Additionally, the police department failed to file a report with Bumble to intercept messages between Smith-Fields and her date, which could have offered crucial information about the nature of the relationship between them.
When the police left her apartment, they made minimal efforts to contact her family, as they found a passport which identified her, according to Rolling Stone Magazine. This left her family in the dark. Smith-Fields’s mother was informed of her daughter’s death from outside the door of her apartment, where she had gone to make sure she was okay after she stopped responding to her phone.
A medical examiner ruled Smith-Fields’s cause of death to be “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol,” according to CNN. Promethazine and hydroxyzine are both antihistamines meant to alleviate allergic reactions. It is not advised to take both of them together. “Using promethazine together with hydroxyzine may increase side effects such as drowsiness, blurred vision… confusion, and memory problems,” according to Drugs.com. Further, the United States Drug Administration cites that sedation, drowsiness, and confusion are common effects of the opiate drug Fentanyl. Understanding the effect these drugs have is crucial to piecing together what may have happened to Smith-Fields. It is unknown whether Smith-Fields took these drugs willingly, because the police did not test any of the drinks in the apartment for contamination.
“As a sibling, daughter, family member, it’s horrible to think that anyone could be put in a situation where they’re informed that a family member has died while they’re outside the door of their apartment, waiting for them to answer. You have to question the procedure the police go through when they investigate these kinds of cases. They didn’t do the bare minimum of investigating the man who should have been the primary suspect, and they did not even contact her family. The fact that so many drugs were found in her system, and they still did not go back to collect evidence, leaving it for the family to find, is an egregious miscarriage of justice. It makes you wonder how often this happens, that crucial evidence is disregarded by the police and a case is swept under the rug,” Marissa Crevecoeur (‘22) said.
The many failures of the Bridgeport Police Department have not only damaged the Smith-Fields’s chances of finding out what happened to their daughter, but illuminated a disturbing trend in the justice system. While missing white women receive nationwide coverage for weeks on end, black women are often dismissed by the police and not represented in the mainstream news. In Stamford, it is likely that more people can recognize the name Gabby Petito than Lauren Smith-Fields, despite the fact that Lauren Smith-Fields was our neighbor and a member of our community. We must do better to demand justice for black women, and elevate their stories to the same level.