(BRIDGEPORT, Conn.) — A Bridgeport, Connecticut, chapter of the NAACP is demanding the Department of Justice investigate the Bridgeport Police Department over the cases of two Black women, Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, who were both found dead in their homes.
The demand comes after two Bridgeport police detectives assigned to both cases, were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the police department’s internal affairs office.
The detectives were disciplined due to a “lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy” in the handling of the two cases, according to a statement from Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim on Jan. 30.
Rawls was found dead and alone in her home on Dec. 12, 2021. The cause and manner of death are still undetermined, according to the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Smith-Fields was found dead in her apartment that same day, shortly after being with 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 ruled the manner of death an “accident.”
The families of Smith-Fields, 23, and Rawls, 53, claim Bridgeport police failed to notify them of the deaths and say they learned of the deaths from others.
During a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Bridgeport NAACP president Rev. D. Stanley Lord recommended new training, revised hiring practices, community input and oversight, and more in order to address criticisms of “insensitivity” and “prejudicial” treatment toward “Blacks and other citizens of color” from the department.
“The operation within the Bridgeport Police Department seems to be a constant disarray and dysfunction,” Lord said.
He added, “Recent actions by uniformed officers and detectives have cast a shadow on the performance of the department publicly and has made clear that there is a great need for diversity in its staff, its 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 U.S. 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 Bridgeport Police Department are hired and promoted based upon a competitive Civil Service exam process.”
The families of Smith-Fields and Rawls have continued to call for proper investigations 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 policies were not followed,” Ganim said in his statement. “To the families, friends and all who care about the human decency that should be shown in these situations in this case by members of the Bridgeport Police Department, I am very sorry.”
The Bridgeport police union called the mayor’s decision to place the officers on leave “regrettable.”
“We caution against a rush to judgment until we have all the facts surrounding this case,” said Sgt. Brad Seely, the union president, in a statement obtained by ABC-affiliate WTNH. “We will file grievances over the placement of Dets. Llanos and Cronin on administrative leave to restore them back to full duty status.”
Seely cited staff shortages in calling for the return of the two detectives.
The union also extended “sympathy and sorrow to the families and friends of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Rawls, whose untimely deaths have brought unimaginable pain.”
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