A month and a half after Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, was reported dead by her Bumble date the morning of December 12, police in Bridgeport, Connecticut, have finally opened a criminal investigation into her death.
The move to open the investigation comes only after the results of Smith-Fields’ autopsy from the chief state medical examiner concluded that she died of “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol.” Police ruled her death an accident, but the presence of fentanyl in her system prompted them to open a criminal investigation in their narcotics department, with the help of the DEA.
Prior to the investigation, Smith-Fields’ family announced their plan to sue the city of Bridgeport for violating Smith-Fields’s and her family’s civil rights and right to due process, claiming police have been “racially insensitive” toward the family, and that police are failing to properly investigate Smith-Fields’ death. Her family says they didn’t even learn about Smith-Field’s death until two days later, when they came to her apartment and found a note on the door that said, “If you are looking for Lauren, please contact this number.”
According to Darnell Crosland, the family’s lawyer, the detective initially working on Smith-Field’s case broke protocol, which dictates that next of kin must be notified of a death within 24 hours. Crosland told the Washington Post that when the family called the number, the detective, Kevin Cronin, promised to come to their home to discuss the investigation, but never arrived. Crosland claims the family “kept calling [Cronin] back, saying, ‘Are you coming?’ And he said, ‘Listen, don’t call me anymore. We’re working on it.’” Crosland says Cronin repeatedly dodged the family’s calls, before being taken off the case.
On the morning of Dec. 12, Smith-Fields’ Bumble date, a 37-year-old white man who’s been identified as Matthew LaFountain, called 9-1-1 and said he found her unresponsive. According to the police report, LaFountain said they had met three days earlier on Bumble. He came to her apartment the night before, and they spent the evening drinking, playing games, and watching a movie. After they took shots of tequila, LaFountain told police Smith-Fields went to her bathroom to vomit, and at another point in the night, that she went to the bathroom again for 10 to 15 minutes. LaFountain said she fell asleep on the couch as they were watching a movie, and he carried her to her bedroom and lay down next to her on her bed before falling asleep.
Crosland and Smith-Fields’ family say that when police arrived the next morning, they failed to collect crucial forensic evidence from her apartment. Her family says they found a used condom in her bathroom, an unidentified pill on the kitchen counter, and bloodstained sheets on the bed, all of which Crosland said police had left behind. Crosland told the Post that “two weeks went by where they didn’t collect any evidence,” and only collected the aforementioned items after Smith-Fields’ family insisted.
Detectives overseeing Smith-Fields’ case almost immediately ruled out her date, the last person to see her alive, as a suspect, without giving the family an explanation. “They looked right in [her brother’s] face and said, ‘Don’t go jumping to conclusions. This is a nice man,’” Crosland said. He alleges that Cronin “has some connection” with LaFountain. Cronin has been under investigation by the police department’s Office of Internal Affairs since being removed from the case.
In recent weeks, Smith-Fields’ case has drawn criticism of endemic police mishandling of the deaths and disappearances of women and girls of color, and particularly Black and Indigenous women. These cases often receive significantly less attention and care than those of missing or deceased white women like Gabby Petito, sparking the term “Missing White Woman Syndrome” to refer to these double standards that often erase women of color who are less likely to even be perceived as victims. Petito was about the same age as Smith-Fields, when she disappeared and was found dead in in Grand Teton National Park last summer. Her case drew national attention, particularly on TikTok.
“Black women don’t get the same treatment that Gabby Petito got,” Crosland told the Post. “Lauren Smith-Fields is dead, and a White man walks out, and [police] have absolutely no interest in him.” He told the Rolling Stone earlier this month, “When a white woman goes missing, the world drops everything. We are done with this valuation.”
Advocates and social media users have since been trying to lift up Smith-Fields’ story, and police mishandling of her case and mistreatment of her family. Smith-Fields’ family has publicly thanked Cardi B, who called for “Justice for Lauren” in a recent tweet. Their lawyer told TMZ, “Cardi was instrumental in getting Lauren’s tragic death to become a criminal case, because police launched their investigation only after Cardi spoke out.”
In a weekend rally on Jan. 23, which would have marked Smith-Fields’ 24th birthday, her mother, Shantell Fields, said to the crowd, “No one is going to discard my daughter like she’s rubbish.” Smith-Fields’ best friend, Veronica DeLeon, told the Post that Smith-Fields “made others feel seen and welcomed when in her presence.”