Family accuses police of being 'racially insensitive' in investigating woman's death

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The family of a 23-year-old Black woman who died after a date with a man she had met on a dating app plans to sue the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, charging that its police department’s handling of the case has been “racially insensitive.”

The woman, Lauren Smith-Fields, was found unresponsive on Dec. 12 in her apartment in Bridgeport by a man she had met on Bumble, according to an incident report provided to NBC News by her family’s attorney, Darnell Crosland.

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The man is 37 and white, according to public records. NBC News is not naming him because he has not been charged.

Crosland said Smith-Fields’ family has been told the man is not a person of interest in the case — a move the family considers “unacceptable,” he said.

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Crosland filed a notice of claim Friday accusing the police of not taking the case seriously enough from the start, for example by not doing a thorough investigation of the apartment.

The notice also alleges that acting Assistant Police Chief Rebeca Garcia, Mayor Joseph Ganim and three others from the police department violated the rights of Smith-Fields and her family under the 1983 Civil Rights Act and failed to provide her and her family with the due process accorded to them under the 14th Amendment.

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“The Police Department has been racially insensitive to this family and has treated this family with no respect and has violated their civil rights,” the notice says. “They have failed to investigate this matter, and they refuse to view the last person with Lauren Smith-Fields before she died as a person of interest. This behavior is unacceptable.”

Family accuses police of being 'racially insensitive' in investigating woman's death
© Provided by NBC News Image: Lauren Smith-Fields. (Courtesy Darnell Crosland)

A cause of death has not yet been determined, the medical examiner’s office said Thursday. Crosland said the family is also awaiting the results of an independent autopsy. 

Crosland said the family says they were not contacted by police for days and learned of Smith-Fields’ death from her building’s landlord, who directed them to police.

Crosland also alleges that police did not initially conduct a thorough search of the apartment. Two weeks after her death, at the urging of her family, Crosland said, police visited the apartment and collected a condom with semen in it from the bathroom and a pill. He said police told the family the condom and pill were sent to a lab for analysis. Crosland also alleges that the family was told by the first detective assigned to the case to stop calling to inquire about the investigation. 

Bridgeport police did not return requests for comment about specific allegations made by Smith-Fields’ family and their attorney.

In a statement, the police department said the “investigation remains open and active.”

“The Detective Bureau is awaiting the final report from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for cause and manner of death of Ms. Smith-Fields,” the statement said. “The Bridgeport Police Department offers it’s sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Lauren Smith-Fields.”

In a statement Friday, Garcia said that upon receipt of outstanding reports, including the final findings from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Bridgeport police will release a final report.

The statement said that “there are elements of misinformation being reposted by various sources but once again, we will be releasing a final comprehensive report at conclusion of this investigation.” 

It asked that anyone with information contact police.  

​​In a separate statement provided to NBC News this month, the city said: “The Bridgeport Police Department takes these concerns very seriously. The Command Staff of the Detective Bureau is reviewing the handling of this case to ensure that best practices were and are being followed. It is imperative to note that the death of Lauren Smith-Fields remains an ongoing investigation. Our department extends its deepest condolences to the family of Lauren.”

The man who said he found her unresponsive told police that he had known Smith-Fields for three days and had met her in person on the evening of Dec. 11. He said Smith-Fields invited him over for a date, and asked him to give her $40 to get her nails done and to bring a bottle of tequila, according to a police incident report.

The man said he arrived at her apartment at 9:30 p.m. and initially believed he had been stood up when he could not reach her, the incident report states. He told police that he did not have Smith-Fields’ phone number and that they communicated via Instagram. He said a short time after he left, she called him via Instagram and he returned to her apartment, according to the incident report. 

He told police that he and Smith-Fields drank shots of tequila, that she became ill and threw up in her bathroom and after that, they drank more tequila with mixers, the incident report says. 

“They played some games, ate some food, and started to watch a movie,” the incident report states. 

According to police, the man said that Smith-Fields told him that her brother was going to drop something off and that she went outside for a few minutes. When she came back inside, the man told police, she went straight to the bathroom and stayed there for 10 to 15 minutes. He said he thought it was odd, according to the incident report, but told police he “didn’t feel it was his place to say anything as he didn’t know her that well.” He said they continued watching the movie and finished the bottle of tequila. He said that Smith-Fields fell asleep on the couch and that he carried her to her bedroom, laid her on her bed and that he laid down beside her and fell asleep, the incident report states. 

He told police he woke up at approximately 3 a.m. to use the bathroom and that she was snoring. He said he woke up again at 6:30 a.m. and Smith-Fields was on her right side and blood was coming out of her right nostril onto the bed and she was not breathing, the incident report says. He told police that was when he called 911. Smith-Fields was pronounced dead at 6:49 a.m., according to the incident report, which also states that she had been dead “at least an hour or more.”

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