32: Mysterious Death of Lauren Smith-Fields
Howdy! In today’s post, I want to highlight the ongoing criminal investigation regarding the death of Lauren Smith-Fields.
December 12, 2021, 23 year old Lauren, who is black, was pronounced dead at 6:49am in her Bridgeport Connecticut apartment. She was athletic and ambitious, ran track as a student of Stamford High School, before studying cosmetology at Norwalk Community College. She hoped to become a physical therapist. She was passionate about travel. The night before her death, she’d been on a date with a 37 year old white man, Matthew LaFountain. She met him on Bumble, a dating app, just three days prior to her death. I’m including their races due to the authorities initial disregarding of this case, as it’s possible race was a factor, something Maria Pereira, a Bridgeport councilwoman has been inquiring about.
It was Matthew LaFountain who called the police at 6:30 am, stating that Lauren was bleeding from one nostril, and no longer breathing. In the police report, he stated that the previous evening they met at Lauren’s apartment, where he’d brought tequila she’d requested. They drank tequila shots until she threw up in the bathroom. They “drank more tequila with mixers, played games, ate food and started watching a movie.” At one point, according to the police report, Lauren received a text and met with her brother outside, giving him his clothes. Which brother is not obvious from news articles. Upon returning, she ducked into the bathroom for approximately 15 minutes. Later Matthew LaFountain carried her to bed, laid down beside her, and went to sleep. He “heard her snoring when he woke up early in the morning to use the bathroom.” Matthew LaFountain’s lawyer, Peter Karayiannis, has stated that his client is not making statements, though might pursue legal action of his own. Against whom is unclear from news articles. My best guess would be against whoever released his name to the media.
Detective Kevin Cronin was the first officer on scene, by which point, medics claim Lauren must have been dead for an hour or more. When Kevin Cronin arrived, Lauren was lying on her back on the floor, with dried blood in her right nostril. Matthew LaFountain remained on scene. The police report states that Matthew LaFountain had been doing chest compressions while on the phone with 9-1-1, and was trembling when they arrived. Police reported no signs of foul play. By all accounts, Matthew LaFountain has been cooperative with this investigation.
According to Lauren’s family, police refused to interview Matthew LaFountain as a person of interest. Lauren’s family’s hired attorney, Darnell Crosland commented, "You expect the police to follow protocol, which is to question the gentleman that was at the scene, take his DNA, compare it to the physical evidence that's present." This was not done and Matthew LaFountain is not a suspect at this time. Detectives described Matthew LaFountain as, "like a really nice guy."
Lauren's family has reported that Lauren's landlord heard someone knocking on the door closer to 5:30am, closer to when Lauren was dying. As far as her family is aware, the police have not pursued that line of inquiry.
According to Darnell Crosland, the police took over two weeks to collect all of the evidence. At first, detectives merely confiscated her keys, credit card, passport, cell phone, and $1,345 in cash. As an aside, that they were eager to grab the cash strikes me as bizarre, but I don’t work in law enforcement. Surely DNA evidence, anything related to recent sex or potential violence, would have held relevance to the case. And while the IDs are useful in identifying the deceased, what good was the cash, unless holding it was how they protected it from theft? According to Attorney Darnell Crosland, upon investigating, Lauren’s family discovered “multiple pieces of key evidence including lubrication, a used condom (with semen), a pill, and a sheet with blood stains [that] have not been received by the lab,” as of January 30, 2022.
Detective Kevin Cronin told Lauren’s family to stop calling him about the case, at one point hanging up on her father. According to Lauren’s family, he never once met with them personally during his investigation.
Lauren’s family was informed of her death by a note from Lauren’s landlord two days after Lauren died, despite the Bridgeport police department having a policy of relaying deaths to loved ones within 24 hours. The note was on Lauren’s door when they came by because she wasn’t picking up her phone. Tavar Gray-Smith, one of Lauren’s brothers, said a detective explained they didn't contact her family because "we had her passport and her ID, so we knew who she was." Mayor Joe Ganim has since stated, “Death notifications should be done in a manner that illustrates dignity for the deceased and respect and compassion for the family. Therefore, I will work with the Chief of Police to make appropriate changes here in Bridgeport – now – for our department’s policies and practices regarding notifying family members of a death.” State Sen. Dennis Bradley has also submitted a bill that, if passed, would ensure families of the deceased are informed in a timely manner. In response to the public backlash, the Bridgeport Police Department has promised to create a victims advocate program to promptly notify families of loved ones’ deaths.
Two days after the coroner informed Lauren’s surviving relatives that the test would take 30 days, Monday January 24 2022, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released their ruling that Lauren’s death was accidental, “caused by acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol.” The overdose was largely blamed on the fentanyl. However, Lauren’s family insists that Lauren has no history of drug use, and Joseph Scott Morgan, a forensic investigator who was an expert correspondent involved in the George Floyd case, pointed out how unlikely it would be for a 23 year old woman to have been dependent on such a diverse combination. That mixture would have made more sense for a long time addict. Darnell Crosland added, "I've never seen a medical examiner conclude a mixer of drugs as an accident without knowing who provided the drugs, or how it was ingested…Lauren didn't use drugs."
One of Lauren’s brothers saw her earlier on December 11, 2021, and reported that she didn’t appear to be acting under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
On January 25, 2022, due to the persistent pursuit of justice by Lauren’s family and allies, including notifying the city of their intent to sue over the mishandling of Lauren’s case, and hosting a rally (on what would have been Lauren’s 24th birthday), the Bridgeport Police Narcotics and Vice Division opened a criminal investigation, and will be assisted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. This announcement came just hours after the accidental death ruling was publicly released by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, but six weeks after Lauren’s death. Investigators are working to discover the source of the lethal cocktail in Lauren’s system. Unfortunately, to many, this is too little, too late. Trust is lost. Lauren’s family has reached out to the federal Department of Justice. As of February 3, 2022, the Bridgeport division of the NAACP is also calling for the DOJ to investigate Bridgeport Police Department over their handling of both Lauren's, and Brenda Lee Rawl's, cases. There are concerns that the Bridgeport police will not, as they have not, given this case its due attention, and that without federal oversight, Lauren’s death will be swept under the rug.
According to Darnell Crosland, Matthew LaFountain has close ties to the Bridgeport police department, including to Officer Kevin Cronin. Darnell Crosland was quoted as stating, “[Kevin Cronin] has intentionally or negligently created a cover-up for the responsible party in Lauren’s death.” As a further example of the unprofessional nature of the police department, Darnell Crosland added, “The acting police chief was a longtime live-in girlfriend of the head of internal affairs, we have a lot to outline the incestuous corrupt and disorganized space here.” According to the NYTimes, that's just the tip of the Brigdeport Police Department's corruption, as "A federal judge in April 2021 sentenced the previous police chief, Armando Perez, to a year and a day in prison. Federal prosecutors had accused Mr. Perez of rigging the selection process to ensure that he became chief, and then later lying to the F.B.I. about it." The city’s acting personnel director, David Dunn, was likewise sentenced to four months in prison for his illegal efforts in helping Armando Perez.
On Friday, January 28, 2022, Officer Kevin Cronin was removed from Lauren’s case. He is being investigated by the Office of Internal Affairs over alleged misconduct. Another detective, Angel Llanos, was likewise removed from the case of another black woman (Brenda Lee Rawls, who I plan to post about next week) who was found dead the same day as Lauren. While I am aware that Kevin Cronin was working under Angel Llanos in Brenda Lee Rawl's case, I am unclear if Angel Llanos also had a role in investigating Lauren Smith-Field's case. That investigator is also being investigated for alleged misconduct. The Bridgeport Police Union president, Sgt. Brad Seely, commented, in response, “It’s regrettable the city has chosen to blame the police...We caution against a rush to judgment until we have all the facts surrounding this case,” before adding, "We will file grievances over the placement of Detectives Llanos and Cronin on administrative leave to restore them back to full duty status."
On December 29th, 2021, Lauren’s mother and brother, Shantell Fields and Lakeem, were approached by authorities, who requested their DNA. Treated as suspects, rather than grieving loved ones, they were brought to a tiny interrogation room in the precinct. That was 17 days after Lauren’s death. Lauren’s family refused to submit to the tests, after being informed they were to “rule them out,” given the last two individuals seen with Lauren had not likewise been swabbed. Shantell Fields reported that Detective Garcia warned them that without their DNA, the Bridgeport police would cease investigating Lauren's death. It's unclear if she is referring to the Police Chief, Rebeca Garcia. “To lose your daughter, your only daughter, your baby girl, at such a ripe age of 23 years old and to be treated the way we [were] treated by the Bridgeport police station and the department is unacceptable,” commented Everett Smith, Lauren’s father. Shantell Fields has stated that the more they push the police department to do their job, the more she fears for the safety of her family.
With regards to this case, Mayor Joe Ganim stated, “I want to be clear to members of the public and the department that insensitivity, disrespect in action, or deviation from policy will not be tolerated by me or others in this administration.” However, pretty words pale to action, and action has yet to be seen. Thus far, there are no reported suspects, and no arrests have been made in this case. “He had from the beginning of this to stand in and say something but he didn’t. Up until the march, us keep talking and talking and being on the media…I guess he had to do something to save face,” was Shantell Field’s, Lauren’s mother’s, response.
As of January 27, 2022, Lauren’s family has paid for an out-of-pocket autopsy, and is raising funds for a private investigator. The Go Fund Me for the private investigator fund is linked HERE. Bumble's chief executive, Whitney Wolfe Herd, has posted a willingness for Bumble to help in this case, over Instagram, and a company representative contacted Lauren’s family promising to assist in the investigation once the authorities reach out to them. As of January 27, 2022, none have.
If you or anyone you know has information regarding Lauren Smith-Field’s case, please contact the Bridgeport Police Department at 203-581-5219 or the anonymous TIPS Line at 203-576-TIPS.
Thanks for stopping by! I put out a new blog post every Monday. Stay safe!