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Two Connecticut detectives placed on leave over handling of Black women's deaths

Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls both died Dec. 12 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Their families said police failed to notify them of their deaths.
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Two Bridgeport, Connecticut, police detectives have been placed on administrative leave following public outcry over the handling of death investigations of two Black women, Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, the city's mayor announced.

Mayor Joseph Ganim extended condolences to the families of Smith-Fields and Rawls in a statement Sunday, saying he was "extremely disappointed with the leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department and find actions taken up to this point unacceptable."

Image: Lauren-Smith-Fields
Lauren Smith-Fields.Courtesy Darnell Crosland

Smith-Fields, 23, was found unresponsive Dec. 12 in her Bridgeport apartment by a man she had met on Bumble, who called police to report that he had awakened to find her unresponsive with a nosebleed.

The family has accused the police department of being "racially insensitive," saying they were not contacted by officers about her death but by the building's landlord. The family's attorney previously told NBC News the Bumble date is not a person of interest in the case. No charges have been filed.

Last week, the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Smith-Fields' death was an accident resulting from acute intoxication due to combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol. Following that announcement, the Bridgeport Police Department announced a criminal investigation into her death, assisted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Rawls, 53, was found dead at a Bridgeport residence the same day as Smith-Fields, and her family also said police never notified them of her death and that city police have not taken her case seriously. 

Her cause and manner of death are pending.

Ganim directed the Bridgeport Police Department to put the two officers handling those cases on leave. They were identified as Detective Kevin Cronin and Detective Angel Llanos by the mayor's spokeswoman, Rowena White.

Cronin and Llanos are currently subjects of internal affairs investigations and face disciplinary action "for lack of sensitivity to the public and failure to follow police policy in the handling of these two matters," Ganim said.

Brenda Lee Rawls.
Brenda Lee Rawls.Courtesy Dorothy Rawls

They have been suspended from their duties and will remain on leave until the internal investigation and disciplinary cases are completed. 

The mayor said a supervisory officer who was in charge of overseeing the cases has retired from the department as of Friday.

The deaths of Smith-Fields and Rawls remain under investigation and have been reassigned within the police department. 

"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 unacceptable failure if policies were not followed."

He said Jan. 24 that he was working with the police chief to "make appropriate changes" to department policies regarding notifying family members of a death.  

Darnell Crosland, the attorney for Smith-Fields' family, filed a notice of claim earlier this month accusing police of not taking the case seriously. 

He called the mayor's announcement "a step in the right direction."

"The city is liable for the behavior of its police department and its officers," Crosland, who is also representing Rawls' family, said. "I am pleased that the mayor has accepted that liability publicly and has apologized to this family for the suffering they have endured."

Dorothy Rawls Washington, one of Rawls' sisters, questioned why it took so long for Ganim to comment publicly and said she believes he only did so "because he's feeling the heat."

She said Ganim has made no attempts to reach her or anyone else in her family.

"It's over a month that both of these women have passed away," Washington said Monday. 

She said she believes there are more people who need to be held accountable. 

"There appears to be no oversight at the Bridgeport Police Department," Washington said, adding that her family has no confidence in local police and would like the FBI, Justice Department or state to take over the investigation into her sister's death.

Bridgeport police did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.