33: The Mysterious death of Brenda Lee Rawls
Howdy! Today I want to highlight the ongoing investigation into the mysterious death of 53 year old Brenda Lee Rawls. She was pronounced dead on December 12, 2021, the same day as Lauren Smith-Fields, and just two miles away, in Bridgeport Connecticut. Brenda lived on Pearl Harbor St, spent much of her career in customer service, and has been described as a funny, family oriented woman. Both Brenda and Lauren are black women. I state their race as it may have been a factor in the initial disregard of their case by authorities.
According to Dorothy Washington, Brenda’s sister, on December 11, 2021, Brenda informed a relative that she was going to a man’s house. On the morning of December 12, 2021, that man attempted to wake Brenda. Being unable to, he called 9-1-1 at 9:42am. First responders came, administered CPR, pronounced her dead, and left with her body. There were no obvious signs of foul play.
When Brenda’s family was unable to reach her, they stopped by her apartment. Then, her nieces, a sister, and a niece’s boyfriend walked down to the home of the man they'd last heard she was on her way to see. On December 14, 2021, Brenda’s family learned of her death, not from the detectives assigned to her case, not from a representative of the police department or a medical examiner’s office, but from the man who’d discovered Brenda’s death. That friend gave what clothing of Brenda’s was in his possession, to her relatives. As far as the family could tell, no investigation was under way. Nothing was cordoned off, no evidence taken, nothing. Brenda was dead and gone and that was all the information they had two days after she was pronounced dead.
Once Brenda’s family was aware of her death, they searched for her body, contacting the police, hospitals, and funeral homes. The police, despite having two detectives assigned to Brenda’s case, were unable to share Brenda's body's whereabouts, providing, instead, information on how to reach the detective working Brenda’s case. It was the wrong information. Brenda’s family found her body with the medical examiner’s office in Farmington through their own investigation, at the recommendation of a funeral home they’d called.
Even upon finally learning Detective Angel Llanos was in charge of Brenda’s case, the family found him impossible to reach. Dorothy Washington stated that she alone called him 4-5 times, leaving messages, which were never returned.
Officially, the Bridgeport Police Department has a duty to inform next of kin of their loved one's passing within 24 hours. Regarding how officers did not notify Brenda's family of her death, Mayor Joe Ganim has stated, “I share concerns echoed by many about the amount of time and manner a family is informed of a loss...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. I support and add my voice to the family, community, and elected officials who are calling for state legislation on this issue.” His condemnation was too little, too late, coming over a month after Brenda's death, when the media caught wind of the story. 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.
Around January 28, 2022, both Detectives Angel Llanos and Kevin Cronin were removed from Brenda’s case, by Mayor Joe Ganim, likely in response to the media backlash over the disregard both of Brenda Lee Rawl’s and Lauren Smith-Field’s deaths. That backlash was due largely to the families of the deceased’s persistent efforts to raise awareness, including Lauren’s relatives' lawsuit against the city, and the rally organized in commemoration of what would have been Lauren’s 24th birthday. Celebrities, magazines, even talk shows have had their relatives, as well as their mutual attorney, Darnell Crosland on, to discuss the injustices both in how these families learned of their loved ones' deaths, as well as the minimal efforts, on the part of the authorities, expended in learning what caused them.
Detective Llanos reportedly didn’t so much as file an incident report. Lauren’s family has expressed outrage that the police refused to investigate the last person she was seen alive with, a 37 year old white man, Matthew LaFountain, who she’d only met three days prior. The police stated he was “like a nice guy.” While Brenda's family demands the police investigate her death, I'm not seeing the wide spread call to interview the last man she was alive with. This could be because she had known him for longer than Lauren knew Matthew LaFountain, or because Brenda and the man share a race. The articles do not specify. Detectives Angel Llanos and Kevin Cronin are both under investigation for alleged misconduct by the Office of Internal Affairs. The Bridgeport Police Union president, Sgt. Brad Seely, commented, in response to the mayor's decision, “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." Those grievances were filed and announced by February 4, 2022.
According to Darnell Crosland, a further example of the unprofessional nature of the police department incudes how, “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 Bridgeport 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.
As of January 31, 2022, it was reported that Brenda’s cause of death wouldn’t be determined, and released, for three weeks. As of January 31, 2022, Brenda’s three sisters claimed they had still never been contacted by Bridgeport police.
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. Likewise, Brenda's family is calling for an independent investigation into Brenda's case, and Darnell Crosland has stated that they too, might sue to city.
If you or anyone you know has information regarding Brenda Lee Rawls' case, please contact the Bridgeport Police Department at 203-581-5219 or the anonymous TIPS Line at 203-576-TIPS.
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