What would’ve been Lauren Smith-Fields’ 24th birthday celebration was instead a day of protest to demand answers and justice in her mysterious death. Today, approximately 100 family, friends, and activists gathered together in front of the Bridgeport, Connecticut, police department to march to the Margaret E. Morton Government Center, where they chanted “Happy Birthday, Lauren” and “Black Women Matter.”
“My daughter was a daddy’s girl,” Smith-Fields’ father, Everett Smith, said to the crowd. “To lose your daughter, your only daughter, your baby girl at the ripe age of 23 years old and to be treated the way we were treated by the Bridgeport police department is unacceptable. My daughter had a life, she traveled the world, she went to college and did tutorials on how to do hair and nails. She had a voice and that voice was stripped and the Bridgeport police station ain’t doing shit about it.”
On Dec. 12, following a Bumble date at her apartment, Smith-Fields was found unresponsive by a white man named Matthew Lafountain. Lafountain called police, reporting that Smith-Fields was unresponsive and had been bleeding from her nose. Smith-Field’s family — who learned of her death days later, after finding a note from the landlord on the door — found a used condom with semen and an unidentified pill in her apartment. They still have not received answers regarding her cause of death and describe communication with detectives as unprofessional and scarce. (Lafountain has not been charged with any crimes, and is not a suspect in the case. Rolling Stone has been unable to reach him for comment.)
The family is demanding answers from Bridgeport Police Department and are upset that they have not heard from city officials regarding the circumstances of Smith-Fields’ death. They also want an apology. The family says their frustration is rooted in the fact that the last person who saw Smith-Fields, Lafountain, was let go without further questioning and or investigation from police. They say the officers on the case have not been responding to their phone calls, and didn’t adequately examine evidence found at the scene of their daughter’s death. As of Friday, the family’s lawyer Darnell Crosland issued a letter to the Bridgeport City Clerk regarding their intent to sue.
“The police department has been racially insensitive to this family and has treated this family with no respect and has violated their civil rights,” wrote Crosland. “They have failed to investigate this matter, and they refuse to view the last person with Lauren Smith-Fields before she died as a person of interest. This behavior is unacceptable.”
Bridgeport Police Department has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Rolling Stone, but has previously issued a statement to NBC News: This investigation remains open and active. The Detective Bureau is awaiting the final report from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for cause and manner of death of Ms. Smith-Fields. The Bridgeport Police Department offers it’s sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Lauren Smith-Fields. We encourage anyone with information regarding this incident to contact either Detective-Sergeant Joseph Morales at 203-581-5219 or the Bridgeport Police TIPS line at 203-576-8477.”
Another family at the protest — that of Brenda Lee Rawls, 53, who died the same weekend as Smith-Fields — claim they were met with indifference by the Bridgeport PD after the untimely loss of a loved one.
“They treated my sister like a Jane Doe, like they found her on the side of the road with no identification,” said Dorothy Washington, Rawls’s sister. Similar to the Smith-Fields’ family, Rawls’s family say they received no notice or help from the Bridgeport police department.
“My family is very close and we don’t go a day without talking to each other. The last day we talked to Brenda was on Dec. 11,” Washington said. “On the 12th, she said she was going to a friend’s home to visit after that, we heard nothing from her.”
After days of calling and texting, the sister went to the man’s home that Rawls said she was visiting. “The guy said ‘Brenda? Oh, she died Sunday,’” said Washington. “‘A police officer and one coroner came to pick her up.’ My family called the hospitals, the police department and they knew nothing about her death.”
It wasn’t until the family contacted the Farmington Connecticut State Medical Examiner, that they found out where she was. Rawls died Sunday and the family says they were informed on Tuesday. By the time they were aware, an autopsy had been conducted.
“They never called us for identification,” said Washington. “We went down there on Friday of that week and the guy at the window gave us the wrong detective’s name. That detective called me back and gave me the right detective’s name. They never started on the investigation. They never quarantined that guy’s house or questioned him. Never quarantined my sister’s apartment. I called [the detective] four or five times, he never reached out.” (Bridgeport PD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Smith-Fields’ mother wants to create a bill in Smith-Fields’ name that will create police accountability and for families to be notified within 24 hours of the death of a loved one.
Following the protest, Smith-Fields family and friends who were dressed in her favorite color, pink, released pink balloons into the sky as a celebration for her birthday. The crowd was then invited for cake at a local restaurant in the area.
“Today would’ve been her 24th birthday. In a couple of days she would have been leaving to go to Greece to celebrate but now that was taken away from her,” said her mother, Shantell Fields. “No one is going to disparage my daughter like she’s rubbish.”