The family of Lauren Smith-Fields remains devastated a month after the 23-year-old college student was mysteriously found dead in her Bridgeport, Conn., apartment. The family says an uncooperative and hostile police department has made their quest for accountability only more traumatizing.
“We haven’t had any answers since the day that we found out that she passed away,” her mother, Shantell Fields, told Yahoo News, adding that police have told the family repeatedly to stop calling the department altogether. “When you ask questions, [Bridgeport Police] don’t know how to answer it at all … and they made it such a hostile environment.”
According to local reports, Smith-Fields, a YouTuber enrolled at Norwalk Community College, was found unresponsive in her apartment by police on Dec. 12 and later died there. Earlier that evening, she had met up with an “older white man” with whom she had previously connected on the dating site Bumble, her family says. The man, whose name has not yet been released, is said to be the person who called authorities. As of this week, the local medical examiner has yet to release the findings of the autopsy.
In a statement to Yahoo News, a city spokesperson urged patience as the investigation continues.
“The family and community want answers,” said Rowena White, communications director for the city of Bridgeport. “The challenge is that you have to wait.” Bridgeport police have not responded to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News.
But the young woman’s family says they’ve been uncomfortable with the investigation from its outset. Lakeem Jetter, Smith-Fields’s brother, told News 12 Westchester that police had told the family that the man his sister met via Bumble was a “nice guy” and did not need to be investigated.
It was only after repeated complaints from Fields and other family members to city leaders, the family says, that officials began to look further into Smith-Fields’s death. One of the responding officers has since been removed from the case pending an internal investigation, the city confirmed, but it did not expand on the details of that investigation.
Fields’s attorney, Darnell Crosland, alleges that the officer, Detective Kevin Cronin, disregarded basic protocol when first responding to this case, including failing to properly notify Fields of her daughter’s death. Fields says she discovered a note on her daughter’s apartment on Dec. 13 that read, “If you’re looking for Lauren, call this number.” It had been left by the building’s landlord. White, however, says several unsuccessful attempts to contact the family were made.
“How do I not get any notification that my daughter passed away?” Fields asked. “I don’t even get grieving time at all. I’ve been thrown into this whole craziness.”
White maintains that the investigation into Smith-Fields’s death is “ongoing and active” and awaits the full medical examiner’s report, which could take months. She added that the coroner’s initial report on physical evidence determined that there was no foul play involved.
“When there is no foul play, there is no crime,” White said. “That doesn’t mean the cause of death isn’t being investigated.” She added that the man who was with Smith-Fields has been fully cooperative with police.
While the city contends that police will thoroughly investigate Smith-Field’s death, citing an 80 percent homicide solvability rate in 2021, the family has doubts. Her father, Everett Smith, said he paid for a second autopsy “out of pocket” because of how the investigation was being handled. That second report has not yet been completed.
Meanwhile, the family continues to reel with the death of Smith-Fields, whom her mom described as “the light in our family.”
After the immediate shock of learning of her daughter’s death and gaining access to her apartment, Fields said she noticed immediately that police had not collected some of the evidence. Inside her daughter’s bathroom, she found a condom with semen inside. Elsewhere in the apartment, she found a pill that the family believes could be a sedative.
Crosland, the family’s attorney, said police failed on the first day of the investigation.
“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.’”
“It’s appalling that we have to prosecute our own cases,” Crosland added. “The [family] has a right to know that the police consider this case as serious as any other case, and they haven’t gotten that.”
White says all of Bridgeport wants to resolve the case.
“There is one commonality between the city, police and the family — everyone is agonizing while we wait,” she said.
Critics of the Bridgeport Police have drawn comparisons between the investigation into Smith-Fields’s death to that of 22-year-old Gabby Petito last summer. Petito, who was white, had gone missing after a cross-country roadtrip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who returned home to Florida without her. The case sparked a frenzy of coverage in national media, as well as a massive search for Petito, who was found dead in Wyoming, and a subsequent manhunt for Laundrie, whose remains were found in Florida. The police critics note that Smith-Fields, a Black woman, has not gotten the same attention or compassion.
Bridgeport, the state of Connecticut’s most populous city with a diverse population of more than 145,000 people, is no stranger to controversy and even scandal. Indeed, federal authorities have arrested five Bridgeport officials in the last two years.
In 2020, the city’s then-police chief, Armando J. Perez, a close friend of Mayor Joe Ganim, was charged with rigging his own hiring process to ensure he became the city’s top cop; he was sentenced to a year in jail. Ganim also previously spent nearly seven years in prison after being convicted on felony charges that included extortion, bribery and racketeering while serving as mayor of Bridgeport in the early 2000s. He went on to mount a comeback campaign for mayor.
For their part, Smith-Fields’s family members say they refuse to let anything or anyone impede their fight for accountability. They started a GoFundMe to raise funds for the case to ensure a thorough investigation takes place.
“[Bridgeport Police] wants us to disappear, be quiet and just shut up,” Fields said. “And that’s not gonna happen. … Just like I told the police department: You’re going to forever remember Lauren Smith-Fields’s name.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: courtesy of the Smith-Fields family