A pair of Bridgeport detectives involved in probing the Dec. 12 deaths of two Black women have been suspended over their handling of the cases, the city’s mayor announced Sunday.
“I want you to know that I am extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and find actions taken up to this point unacceptable,” Mayor Joe Ganim wrote in a statement.
Ganim said he had ordered the Bridgeport Police Department’s leadership to place both Det. Angel Llanos and Det. Kevin Cronin on administrative leave. Both officers would remain suspended until an internal investigation over “lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy” had been concluded, the mayor added.
The conduct of the Bridgeport police has been under scrutiny since both the families of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls began demanding answers in the wake of their deaths. Both women were found dead on the same day, and neither family was informed by police. Both families have alleged authorities haven’t taken the cases seriously, treating them with racialized insensitivity.
Rawls, 53, died on Dec. 12 after going over to a man’s house who lived near her in Bridgeport, her family told NBC News earlier this week.
“Nobody ever notified us that she died,” Dorothy Rawls Washington, Rawls’ sister, told NBC News. “We had to do our own investigation and find out where she was.”
Washington said family members walked to the man’s house on Dec. 14 after days of unsuccessfully attempting to contact Rawls. The man told them that he hadn’t been able to wake Rawls up and that she had died.
Another sister, Angela Rawls Martin, said the man then passed her Rawls’ clothing and shoes. “I don’t understand why that was left behind,” Martin told NBC.
Washington alleged that Rawls had been treated by the police “like she was a Jane Doe,” adding that it was “like they found her on the side of the road with no identification. They have no respect.” She explained that she had attempted to call an unnamed detective, whose name she had been given by the Bridgeport Police Department, at least four times. She never heard back from him, she said.
Family members of Smith-Fields, 23, raised similar alarm bells after she was found dead following a date with a 37-year-old man she’d met on the dating app Bumble. It was only 48 hours later that her family found out, though, after Smith-Fields’ concerned mother drove to her home. A note, pinned to the door by Smith-Fields’ landlord, instructed her to “call this number,” Shantell Fields told CBS News.
Tavar Gray-Smith, Smith-Fields’ brother, also told CBS that a detective had said the family hadn’t been contacted since authorities “had her passport and her ID, so we knew who she was.”
The family has accused the police of a “racially insensitive” mishandling of the case, writing in a recent notice of claim that the department had treated them “with no respect” and “violated their civil rights.” Similarly to the initial probe into Rawls’ death, potentially crucial physical evidence was not collected from Smith-Fields’ home, her family said.
The notice also condemned authorities’ refusal to consider Smith-Fields’ Bumble date a person of interest in their probe, declining to interview him after one detective told Smith-Fields’ father the date had been “a nice guy,” according to a local outlet.
The Daily Beast is not naming the man, as he has not been charged with a crime.
Amid the 23-year-old’s family’s calls for answers, public interest in the case snowballed, crescendoing when the rapper Cardi B tweeted last Sunday, “Justice for Lauren. Connecticut you have failed that young lady!!!”
A day later, the Connecticut chief medical examiner ruled Smith-Fields’ death an “accident,” finding she’d overdosed on a lethal combination of fentanyl, prescription medication, and alcohol. The family immediately challenged the ruling, and on Jan. 25, acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia said the department would be opening a criminal investigation into “the factors that [led to Smith-Fields’] untimely death.”
Darnell Crosland, an attorney representing Smith-Fields’ family, told TMZ that Cardi B had been “instrumental” in getting the investigation opened.
In the wake of the outcry over Smith-Fields’ death, Ganim had also announced that he would be working with Chief Garcia to “make appropriate changes” to police policies regarding death notifications. He added in a statement last Monday that “sensitivity and care is of utmost importance when working with the family of a victim.”
Rawls’ family said they sent multiple letters to both Ganim and Garcia after their discovery of her death, pleading for justice. Neither the mayor nor the chief had responded to the letters by Thursday, when NBC published its story.
“The Bridgeport Police Department has high standards for officer sensitivity especially in matters involving the death of a family member,” Ganim said on Sunday. “It is an unacceptable failure if policies were not followed.” He added that Smith-Fields and Rawls’ deaths remained under active investigation, having been reassigned to other members of the department. Ganim also said an unnamed “supervisory officer,” who oversaw “these matters,” had retired from the department on Friday.
Llanos began his career with the Bridgeport police force in 1988, while Cronin started at the department in 2000. With Garcia apparently away from her post, Ganim said he had directed Deputy Chief James Baraja to institute the suspensions. The mayor did not elaborate on a reason for Garcia’s absence.