Bridgeport NAACP asks DOJ to investigate police department following Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls cases

The call comes after two detectives were placed on administrative leave.

A Bridgeport, Connecticut, chapter of the NAACP is asking the Justice Department to investigate the Bridgeport Police Department’s cases of two black women, Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, who were both found dead in their homes.

The request comes after two Bridgeport police detectives assigned to the two cases were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the police department’s Office of Internal Affairs.

Detectives were disciplined for “lack of public sensitivity and failure to adhere to police policy” in handling the two cases, according to a statement from Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, on January 30.

Rawls was found dead and alone in her home on Dec. 12, 2021. The cause and circumstances of death are still undetermined, according to the Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner’s Office.

Smith-Fields was found dead in her apartment the same day, shortly after dating a man she had met on a dating app.

The Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner’s Office found that Smith-Fields’ cause of death was “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol.” The medical examiner called the manner of death an “accident”.

The families of Smith-Fields, 23, and Rawls, 53, say Bridgeport police did not notify them of the death and say they learned of other people’s deaths.

During a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Bridgeport NAACP President Reverend D. Stanley Lord recommended new training, revised hiring practices, community input and oversight, and more in order to respond to criticism of the department’s “insensitivity” and “prejudicial” treatment of “blacks and other citizens of color”.

“The operation within the Bridgeport Police Department appears to be one of constant disarray and dysfunction,” Lord said.

He added: “Recent actions by uniformed officers and detectives have publicly cast a shadow over the Department’s performance and have made it clear that there is a great need for diversity in its personnel, leadership and decision-making practices. “

Lord reported that African Americans make up less than 15% of the Bridgeport Police Department. BPD confirmed the statistic.

However, black Americans make up 35% of the city’s population, according to the US Census Bureau.

In a statement to ABC News from the City of Bridgeport, BPD said it “serves its residents and all members of our community, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religion. Members of the department Bridgeport police are hired and promoted based on a competitive civilian service review process.”

The families of Smith-Fields and Rawls continued to call for proper inquests into their deaths following the mayor’s announcement. The cases have been reassigned and are still under active investigation.

“It is an unacceptable failure if the policies are not followed,” Ganim said in his statement. “To families, friends and anyone who cares about the human decency that should be shown in these situations in this case by members of the Bridgeport Police Department, I am truly sorry.”

The Bridgeport police union called the mayor’s decision to furlough the officers “regrettable”.

“We caution against a rush to judgment until we have all the facts surrounding this case,” said Sgt. Brad Seely, the union’s president, in a statement obtained by ABC affiliate WTNH. “We will file grievances regarding the placement of Detectives Llanos and Cronin on administrative leave to restore them to full duty status.”

Seely cited staffing shortages in calling for the return of the two detectives.

The union also expressed “sympathy and sadness to the families and friends of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Rawls, whose untimely deaths have caused unimaginable pain.”

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