June 24, 2024

Family of Black woman questions Connecticut police response to death

The family of Brenda Rawls— a 53-year-old Black woman who died after visiting a man’s house in Bridgeport, Connecticut — is alleging that city police didn’t investigate her death or take the case seriously.

Rawls, who died the same day as 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields —who was found dead in her apartment after a date — reportedly told her family she was visiting a male acquaintance’s house down the street from her.

After unsuccessful attempts to reach her, the day of and after the date, several family members walked to the man’s house, where they were told that Rawls was dead.

“Nobody ever notified us that she died,” said Rawls’ sister, Dorothy Rawls Washington, to NBC News. “We had to do our own investigation and find out where she was.”

The chilling news of Rawls comes after the Smith-Fields case, in the same city, gains major traction.

Smith-Fields was found unresponsive in her Bridgeport apartment on December 12, after she met 37-year-old Matthew LaFountain on the dating app Bumble.

LaFountain reportedly contacted police about Smith-Fields’ death and was not detained for questioning, Westchester News 12 reported.

After several social media campaigns, including a TikTok video detailing the incident and lack of media coverage, and outrage from the family, Bridgeport Police Department finally opened a criminal investigation into Smith-Fields’ death in late December.

Lauren Smith-Fields thegrio.com
Lauren Smith-Fields (Credit: GoFundMe/Family handout)

Rawls’ family notes the uncanny similarities between the two deaths, including the Bridgeport Police department’s failure to investigate the men present leading up to the deaths and proper examination of the evidence.

In Rawls’ case, the family had to start contacting funeral homes in search of her body after being told she passed.

“They never took any opportunity to look for next of kin,” said Washington of police. She said that she was advised by a funeral home to contact the state medical examiner’s office where the family was able to find Rawl’s body.

On Thursday, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the cause of death has not been determined.

The family said they sent four letters to Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim and acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia, demanding that the city and department answer their questions about Rawls’s death.

Rawls’ other sister, Angela Rawls Martin, claims that after she asked the police sergeant if he had searched Rawl’s apartment or the home she was found in, he said it was not in the police report.

In an interview, she said that the sergeant later apologized and told her that the department “dropped the ball” in the investigation.

Her sisters also allege that after they were given a detective’s name last month, he did not respond to their numerous calls.

The family of Rawls and Smith-Fields joined together in a rally in Bridgeport on Sunday on what would have been Smith-Field’s 24th birthday to call on the state to properly investigate the deaths of the women.

On Friday, the Smith-Fields family filed a notice of claim to sue the city for its police department’s “racially insensitive” handling of the case.

On Sunday, Mayor Ganim announced the suspension of two detectives involved with investigating the deaths of Smith-Fields and Rawls.

“The Bridgeport Police Department has high standards for officer sensitivity especially in matters involving the death of a family member,” Ganim said. “It is an unaccepted failure that policies were not followed.

“To the families, friends, and all who care about human decency that should be shown in these situations in this case, by members of the police department, I am very sorry.”

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