Two Connecticut detectives who have been accused of mishandling the investigations into the deaths of two Black women who were found dead on the same day last month have been suspended, officials announced Sunday night.
In a statement, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim apologized and offered his condolences to the families of Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, and Brenda Rawls, 53, as he expressed his disappointment with the police department's actions. In both cases, the families said police didn't even notify them about the women's deaths and that they failed to conduct basic searches of where their bodies were found.
Ganim said the detectives, Kevin Cronin and Angel Llanos, have been suspended and put on administrative leave pending the department's internal affairs investigations. He added that their supervisor retired from the department on Friday.
"The Bridgeport Police Department has high standards for officer sensitivity especially in matters involving the death of a family member. It is an unacceptable failure if policies were not followed," Ganim said.
The suspensions come days after the department opened a criminal investigation into the death of Smith-Fields, whose body was found in her home on Dec. 12 after she'd gone on a date with an older man she met on Bumble. The department announced the new probe after the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner concluded that the 23-year-old died from an overdose of fentanyl mixed with prescription medication and alcohol.
Smith-Fields' case has sparked an outcry on social media, with amateur true crime sleuths and other TikTok creators sharing local news stories about the family's struggle to get answers and posting photos of the man she went on a date with before her death.
Though Rawls' case has gotten less attention, the police department's handling of her death was eerily similar, according to news reports. Her family told NBC News last week that the 53-year-old was also found dead on Dec. 12 but they only found out after their own investigation.
Her sister, Dorothy Rawls Washington, said Brenda told the family on Dec. 11 that she planned to visit a man she knew who lived down the street from her. After they were unable to reach her on Dec. 12 and 13, they went to the man's home and he told them that he couldn't wake her up on Dec. 12 and that she had died.
"[The police] never took any opportunity to look for next of kin," Washington told NBC News. "The next time we saw our sister, she was in a funeral home."
Like in Smith-Fields' case, Rawls' family has raised questions about whether police conducted an adequate investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death.
In letters to city officials, Rawls' family said a police sergeant told them there was no indication in the police report that they searched her apartment or the residence where her body was found, NBC News reported. The same police sergeant reportedly told the family that they had "dropped the ball" with regard to the investigation into Rawls' death.
The state's medical examiner has not yet released a cause or manner of death for Rawls. The office did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment Monday.
In a statement on Sunday, Darnell Crosland, an attorney for Smith-Fields' family, called the mayor's announcement "a step in the right direction," saying that the city is "liable for the behavior of its police department and its officers."
"I am pleased that the mayor has accepted that liability publicly and has apologized to this family for the suffering they have endured," Crosland said.
In a Jan. 21 notice of claim to sue the city and police department, Crosland said investigators failed to collect possible physical evidence from Smith-Fields’ home, including bloodied sheets, a pill, and a used condom, according to multiple outlets. The notice also said that police have refused to interview the man who reported her death. It also accused Cronin, the detective who handled the case, of assisting him in "a cover-up."
Ganim said Sunday that both women's deaths are under active investigation and have since been reassigned to other members of the Bridgeport Police Department.
"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," Ganim said. "My disappointment and demand for accountability in these and any other matter brought to my attention will remain until all the questions are answered to the satisfaction of all."