Lawmakers in Connecticut have proposed legislation after Bridgeport Police failed to notify the families of Brenda Lee Rawls and Lauren Smith-Fields of their deaths on Dec. 12.
The new death notification bill, HB-5349, would require the police statewide to notify next of kin within 24 hours of a person’s death.
Brenda Lee Rawls’ family told NBC Connecticut that the Bridgeport Police Department did not notify them of her death. They learned of Rawls’ death after they went to the house of her acquaintance, who told them she had died.
Lauren Smith-Fields’ family found out about her death from her landlord after they hadn’t heard from her and began searching. Fields’ father, Everette Smith, said they found out she had died several days after his daughter’s death and never received a death notification from the Bridgeport Police Department.
“We didn’t even get a phone call, we had to search and dig and find out my daughter’s death through a fourth party,” said Smith. “Everyday is a challenge, it’s a delay reprieve, it’s a delay reprieve to try and understand.”
Twenty-three-year-old Fields died from a fentanyl overdose after a date with a white man she met on Bumble, Matthew Lafountain. Fifty-three-year-old Rawls’ reportedly died of cardiovascular disease with a contributing factor of diabetes.
Both women died on Dec. 12, but due to a lack of respect and professionalism from the Bridgeport Police Department, neither family was notified their loved ones had passed away. Lauren Smith-Fields’ mother, Shantell Fields, told NBC Connecticut that they were deprived of human decency.
“On December 13, our family did not receive human decency, sensitivity and common respect after the death of Lauren,” she said.
Dorothy Washington, Rawls’ sister, was irritated by a statement from the city noting they were closing the case after an autopsy revealed she died of natural causes.
“They never opened an investigation into her death, so what are they talking about?” she said. “The investigation we want is how they dropped the ball in handling my sister’s case and how they treated the family like trash.”
She added that the police have still not contacted the family.
“We also had to search for our sister, me and my family,” said Washington. “To this day, we have not had a meeting or anything with police officers, or the police department, they have not entertained meeting with us at all.”
State Senator Dennis Bradley co-sponsored the legislation and said all families should be treated with dignity during such a delicate time.
“This is such a basic concept that we think should take place in the state of Connecticut to ensure human dignity, we want to make sure that the family is treated with a delicacy in a delicate situation that it deserves,” said Bradley. “This piece of legislation, although at it’s first glance sounds pretty fundamental, will be monumental to ensure that we make a bridge between police departments and families.”