Family of another black woman found dead in Connecticut questions police response
The family of a black woman found dead in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on the same day as Lauren Smith-Fields alleges the city’s police failed to investigate her death or take the matter seriously.
And like Smith-Fields’ family, they said police never informed them of his death. They said they learned she had died through their own investigation.
The wife, Brenda Rawls, 53, died on December 12. Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Thursday the cause of death has yet to be determined.
Her sister Dorothy Rawls Washington said she and her sisters were close and spoke on the phone or texted each other every day. On December 11, Brenda Rawls told her family that she planned to go to a man she knew who lived down the street. Her family said they tried unsuccessfully to reach her on December 12 and 13.
“Then on the 14th we said something was wrong,” Washington said. “So two of my sisters, my niece and my niece’s boyfriend walked to this man’s house.”
When they asked if she was there, he told them he couldn’t wake her on Dec. 12 and she was dead, Washington said.
Angela Rawls Martin, another of the sisters, said: “He gave me the clothes she was wearing and her shoes. I don’t understand why that was left.”
Bridgeport police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Nobody ever informed us of his death,” Washington said. “We had to do our own investigation and find out where she was.”
One of the Rawls sisters called a funeral home to ask if her body was there, but it wasn’t. Washington said the funeral home advised the family to contact the state medical examiner’s office, and that’s where they found her.
“They never took the opportunity to search for relatives,” she said of the police. “The next time we saw our sister she was at a funeral home.”
The family provided NBC News with copies of four letters they said they sent to Mayor Joseph Ganim and Acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia. They said they received no response. A spokeswoman for Ganim did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the family’s allegations.
In response to criticism over Smith-Fields’ handling of the death, Ganim said Monday that he plans to work with the police chief to “make the appropriate changes here in Bridgeport now to our department’s policies and practices regarding the notification of family members of a death.”
In her letter, Martin said that she had spoken to a police sergeant several times and that when she asked him if the police had searched her sister’s apartment or the residence where she was found, he told her. replied that it was not in the police report. In an interview, she said the same police sergeant also apologized to her and told her the police had “dropped the ball” when it came to the investigation into her sister’s death.
Washington said she and her sisters went to the Bridgeport Police Department last month and were given the name of a detective to contact. She said she called him four or five times but never heard from him.
“They treated my sister Brenda like she was a Jane Doe,” she said. “Like they found her on the side of the road with no identification. They have no respect.”
Smith-Fields was found dead in her apartment after going on a date with a man she met on the dating app Bumble. The man, who is 37 and white, called 911 on Dec. 12 to report he awoke to find her unconscious with a nosebleed. The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday that Smith-Fields’ death was an accident resulting from “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol.” Subsequently, Bridgeport police said they had opened a criminal investigation following the medical examiner’s report. Ganim said Monday that the handling of the Smith-Fields case had been referred to the police department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs for investigation.
A Smith-Fields family attorney, Darnell Crosland, filed a Notice of Claim Friday advising the city of his intention to pursue what he described as the department’s “racially insensitive” handling of the case. from police.
Washington and other members of the Rawls family attended a rally for Smith-Fields in Bridgeport on Sunday, which would have been his 24th birthday. Both families are calling on the state to investigate the deaths of Smith-Fields and Rawls.
“It will not be a fair or thorough investigation if conducted by the city,” Washington said.
Maria Pereira, a member of the city council whose district includes the two women’s residences, said it was not until the rally that she learned that the two women had died on the same day and that their cases were being handled by the same neighborhood.
Pereira, a Democrat, said there were “tremendous similarities” between the two cases – although she did not suggest they were linked – including the fact that the two women were black, that they died unexpectedly at a young age, that they were on a date with men who said they woke up in the morning to find them dead and none of their families were told of their death by the police.
Additionally, Pereira said, the two death scenes were not secured or processed for forensic evidence, and both families said Bridgeport police treated them without compassion or humanity.
“So now what I see here is a model with the Bridgeport PD,” she said.