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Police investigation of Black woman's mysterious death "racially insensitive," family says

Family seeks answers after woman's death
Connecticut family seeks answers after woman found dead while reportedly on a date 04:34

A Connecticut family says the Bridgeport Police Department failed to properly investigate the mysterious death of a young Black woman last month, calling the detectives' handling of the case "racially insensitive." The family says it plans to sue.

In December, 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields was found dead at her home, while reportedly on a date. A White man, whom she met on the dating app Bumble, reported her dead during their date.

He is not facing any charges, so CBS News is not releasing his name.

Smith-Fields' family calls the detectives' handling of the case "racially insensitive," and is fighting for answers as to how the seemingly healthy young woman reportedly died in her bed.

Lauren Smith-Fields. CBS News

On Sunday – what would have been Smith-Fields' 24th birthday – family, friends and supporters marched in Bridgeport to celebrate her life, and to demand answers and justice.

Correspondent Elise Preston spoke with the family, which is calling for an outside agency to handle the investigation, and says it is planning to sue the police. 

"The pain is so unbearable," said Lauren's mother, Shantell Fields, who told Preston she drove to her daughter's apartment last month after not hearing from her. "When I got there, there was a note on the door saying, 'If you're looking for Lauren, call this number.'"

The family said a detective told them Smith-Fields had been declared dead about a day and a half earlier … and no one reached out to tell them.

According to her brother Lakeem Jetter, the detective said, "'She met some guy on Bumble that night.' And I'm like, 'Who is this guy? What's going on?' He's like, 'Oh, he sounds like a nice guy, don't worry about it.'"

According to an incident report, the date told police the two allegedly spent the night drinking, eating and watching a movie. At one point, he said Smith-Fields went outside to meet someone. Later she fell ill. But the two continued drinking. Smith-Fields fell asleep, and the date carried her to bed, where he went to sleep next to her. Hours later, around 6:30 in the morning, he says he woke up to Smith-Fields not breathing, her nose bleeding. He called 911.

The family says a detective also told them to stop calling him for information.

Lauren's brother, Tavar Gray-Smith, told "CBS Mornings" what the detective had said to them: "We didn't need to reach out to any family member – we had her passport and her ID, so we knew who she was, and had already performed an autopsy, and her body is at the medical examiner's office."

Gray-Smith also said the detective hung up on Lauren and Tavar's father: "They treated her like she had no family, like no one would care.

"Lauren was bright," he said. "She had a future, and the world knows she should be here, and that's why [the news is] going viral like it is."

The family said they were told the detective has since been removed from the case.

Preston asked the family's attorney Darnell Crosland, "Where all do you think the police department misstepped in handling Lauren's death?"

"When you find a young lady dead and there's a male involved, immediately they are a person of interest, and they should have immediately collected their DNA," Crosland replied.

The incident report shows police collected money and Smith-Fields' passport, credit card and phone. But Crosland stresses possible key evidence, like bloodied sheets and drinks, wasn't processed at the scene until two and a half weeks later.

"At the scene we find a pill, we find a condom with semen in it," Crosland said.

In a statement to CBS News, Bridgeport Police Acting Chief Rebecca Garcia said there are elements of misinformation being reposted, adding they will release a final comprehensive report at the end of their investigation.

Crosland said, "People know Black women, Black girls have been going missing and haven't gotten any attention, and I think it's at a boiling point. We are just asking for process; that's it. Treat these cases like you would treat any others."

Preston asked Shantell Fields, "To lose Lauren in this way, how does that make you feel?"

"A part of my soul died," Fields replied. "I will never be the same again. I don't even know how to even move from the next day to the next minute. I am really dead inside."

The medical examiner's office tells CBS News an autopsy report should be complete in about a week. The family has paid out of pocket for an independent autopsy as well.

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