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Conn. detectives suspended amid probes of 2 Black women’s deaths

In each of the two cases, the families said police did not notify them of the deaths in a timely manner.

Shantell Fields, Lauren Smith-Fields' mother, stands with family members during a protest rally in front of the Morton Government Center, in Bridgeport, Conn. Jan. 23. Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP


Two Bridgeport police detectives have been suspended amid investigations into allegations of insensitivity in their handling of separate cases in which Black women were found dead in their apartments.

In each of the two cases, the families said police did not notify them of the deaths in a timely manner.

The city’s Democratic mayor, Joe Ganim, released a video statement on Sunday saying he directed the Bridgeport Police Department’s deputy chief to place the officers on administrative leave. Ganim said both are subjects of an internal affairs investigation, while a supervisory officer involved in the cases has retired.

Ganim apologized to the families of 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields and 53-year-old Brenda Lee Rawls, calling it an “unacceptable failure” if police department policies involving the death of a family member were not followed.

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“I am extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and found the actions taken up until this point with regards to these two cases unacceptable,” Ganim said in his statement. “I want to be clear to members of the public and the department that insensitivity, disrespect in action, or deviation from policy will not be tolerated by me or others in this administration.”

He said both cases remain under active investigation and have been assigned to other officers.

The family of Smith-Fields has complained that authorities were not giving the investigation enough attention because she was African American.

Smith-Fields, a college student, was found dead after a man she had met recently online called police on Dec. 12 to say he awoke to find her unresponsive. The medical examiner’s office said Smith-Fields died from the combined effects of alcohol, fentanyl, and antihistamines.

Smith-Field’s family said police never notified them of her death, which they learned about more than a day later through a note left on her apartment door by her landlord. A detective eventually asked them to stop calling, they said.

The family of Rawls, who was also found dead in her Bridgeport apartment last month after a man she was with called police to say he had awoken to find her unresponsive, told News 12 Connecticut they were never notified of the woman’s death and were told nobody could help them when they went to the police department seeking answers about the case.

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A spokesman for the Bridgeport Police Department said officers were in contact with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Monday and additional tests were being conducted. Scott Appleby, director of the Office of Emergency Management & Homeland Security/Emergency Communications, said “the OCME does not expect to make a decision on cause and manner of death for at least another three weeks.”

Darnell Crosland, an attorney for Smith-Fields’ family, said on Twitter that Ganim’s statement was a step in the right direction.

“The city is liable for the behavior of its police department and its officers. I am pleased that the mayor has accepted that liability publicly and has apologized to this family for the suffering they have endured,” he wrote.

Ganim said the two officers will be placed on administrative leave until the internal affairs investigation has been completed. A message was left seeking comment with a representative of the Bridgeport Police Union.

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