Connecticut Police Open Inquiry into Lauren Smith-Fields’ Mysterious Death After Weeks of Protests
20:06 GMT 28.01.2022 (Updated: 13:28 GMT 06.08.2022)
© Sputnik ScreenshotLauren Smith-Fields, who was found dead in her Bridgeport, Connecticut, apartment on December 12, 2021
After weeks of building social and legal pressure, police in a western Connecticut town have opened a criminal investigation into the death of Lauren Smith-Fields, a 23-year-old Black woman who died last month on a date with an older white man. Her family’s supporters say it’s another example of “missing white woman syndrome.”
In Bridgeport, Connecticut, on the night of December 11, Smith-Fields met Matthew LaFountain via the Bumble dating app and went on a date that culminated in him spending the night at her apartment. Early the following morning, LaFountain called emergency medical services to report that Smith-Fields was dead.
However, more than six weeks passed since her death before its cause was announced and before police treated LaFountain as a suspect in it.
According to a Monday statement by the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Smith-Fields died of "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol” and is being ruled an accident.
The next day, Bridgeport police said that as a result of the report, its Narcotics and Vice Division had opened a criminal investigation and was cooperating with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), adding that it “continues to treat the untimely death of Lauren Smith-Fields as an active investigation.”
LaFountain’s lawyer also told The Daily Beast on Thursday that his client was cooperating with the investigation, but beyond that, “he’s not going to be making any statements.” However, it took more than a month of struggle for police to treat him as a suspect, which is typical with the person who reports a death, discovers a body or was with the person at the time of their death.
Smith-Fields’ family didn’t learn of Lauren’s death for two days, with her mother, Shantell Fields, only finding out after going to her daughter’s apartment on December 13 and finding a note saying, “If you’re looking for Lauren, call this number.”
According to Fields, the number was for a police detective named Kevin Cronin, who told her son the basic facts surrounding Lauren’s death.
“My son talked to him and he was asking him what happened,” Fields told the New York Times. “Cronin said that she met a white guy on Bumble, ‘but don’t worry about that, he’s a really nice guy.’”
According to Rolling Stone, which viewed the incident report on file, LaFountain told Cronin he and Smith-Fields had chatted for a few days on the phone, and on the night of December 11, they ate food, drank tequila with mixers, played games and watched a movie at her apartment.
He said at one point she met with her brother outside, then went to the bathroom for 10 to 15 minutes before they resumed watching the movie. LaFountain told police Smith-Fields fell asleep on the couch and he carried her to bed and fell asleep beside her. He said she was breathing through the night, but when he awoke at 6:30 am, he found her no longer breathing and with blood coming out of her right nostril, and called 911, the emergency number in the United States.
Fields told the Times that when Cronin failed to show up to Lauren’s apartment, they went inside anyway, finding a bloody bed, a used condom, and a pill bottle.
Family’s Fight for Justice
Because of the department’s handling of Smith-Fields’ case, her family has mounted an effort to get her justice. Last week, Fields filed a notice of intention to sue Ganim. Bridgeport Chief of Police Rebeca Garcia, and several detectives. Then on January 23, which would have been Lauren’s 24th birthday, dozens marched through Bridgeport streets to the offices of Mayor Joseph Ganim, demanding action on the case.
March on what would have been the 24th birthday of Lauren Smith-Fields of Bridgeport, found dead in her apartment Dec. 12. pic.twitter.com/58ExZhBUx6— Ethan Fry (@ethanfry) January 23, 2022
The next day, Ganim made his first comments about her death, confirming that its handling thus far was being investigated by the Office of Internal Affairs and that Cronin had been removed from the case. That was also the day the Medical Examiner’s office released details about the cause of her death.
“It’s happening all too often with Black girls missing across this world, across this country, and no one says anything,” Darnell Crosland, the family’s attorney, told Rolling Stone. “When a white woman goes missing, the whole world drops everything. We are done with this valuation.”
“We’re suing the city of Bridgeport for failure to prosecute and failure to protect this family under the 14th Amendment,” he added.
“We thought from the beginning that there was foul play here,” Crosland later told the Times. “When you launch an investigation, that investigation must start with and include the last living person that reported the death of the other person.”
He urged that the toxicology report by the medical examiner makes Smith-Fields’ death look even “more like a murder,” noting that he’s “never seen a medical examiner conclude a mix of drugs was an accident without knowing who provided the drugs, or how it was ingested.”
This is sooo scary!!!A fictional murderer character but in real life!! Justice for Lauren.Connecticut you have failed that young lady!!! pic.twitter.com/hYce46KfYD— Cardi B (@iamcardib) January 24, 2022
The situation has renewed discussion around the concept of “missing white woman syndrome.”
PBS anchor Gwen Ifill coined the term in 2004 to describe the media’s fascination with such stories when they concern white women, while at the same time ignoring or giving considerably less coverage to similar stories about missing Black women.
The term was used prominently last year when in early September, 22-year-old Gabby Petito went missing and was later found dead in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, the cause of death being ruled as strangulation. In that case, like Smith-Fields’, Petito’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, was initially also given a pass by police, who refused to file a domestic violence incident report about a fight between Petito and Laundrie weeks before her death. However, Laundrie was never charged with any crime connected to Petito’s death before being found dead himself in a Florida swamp several weeks later.
Corporate media gave the story nonstop coverage until Laundrie’s remains were discovered on October 20.
Similarly to Smith-Fields, the March 13, 2020, death of 26-year-old Black woman Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Louisville, Kentucky, took weeks to get any kind of coverage in the media beyond vague reports that did not mention her name or look beyond the version of events presented by police. Only a nationwide uprising protesting police violence that erupted in late May of that year, following the police murder of George Floyd, in which Taylor’s name was invoked alongside Floyd’s and that of Amaud Arbery, another murdered Black man murdered by white vigilantes, was her death subjected to media scrutiny.
Jury selection for the trial of Brett Hankison, the Louisville Police officer who fired the shots that killed Taylor, began on Friday. He is facing three lower-level felony charges. However, despite nearly two years of protests, Hankison isn’t being charged for killing Taylor, but for his gunshots that missed, striking the wall and endangering Taylor’s neighbors. However, the detective who organized the mistaken raid on her apartment and another who took part and also shot Taylor, have both been fired from the force.