Words by Cameron Trencher, Staff Writer
Trigger warnings for drug use and death.
Lauren Smith-Fields, a 23-year-old Black woman, was found dead by a man she had met through internet dating site Bumble on December 12th. A physical therapy student from Bridgeport, Connecticut, the woman was found with a combination of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol in her system. Smith Fields’ Bumble date, a caucasian man of 37 years of age named Matthew LaFountain, has neither been charged nor taken for questioning by police.
Certain events retold by LaFountain contradict the story implied by evidence found at the scene, leading to suspicion from the family of the deceased. According to LaFountain, the two met days before through Bumble and spent the night in Smith-Fields’ apartment drinking tequila. After Smith-Fields vomited in her bathroom, she fell asleep and was carried upstairs by her date, who slept next to her. At 6:30 a.m. he found her unconscious and bleeding from the nose. LaFountain alerted paramedics, who pronounced her dead at the scene. The deceased’s family’s lawyer, Darnell Crosland, noted the scene held a used condom, an unidentified pill, and a blood stain on Smith-Fields’ bed, though LaFountain insists the pair did not have sex. These items were not taken as evidence by law enforcement.
The alcohol found in Smith-Fields’ system was a result of the tequila the pair were drinking, and Smith-Fields was known to be taking promethazine and hydroxyzine as antihistamines. No explanation has been offered for the lethal quantities of fentanyl Smith-Fields had ingested, a drug which constituted 80% of overdoses across the state of Connecticut in 2021. Despite Smith-Fields having no noted history with illegal drugs, the death was ruled accidental by the case’s medical examiner. Whilst it is unknown how the fentanyl got into her body, her brother Lakeem Jetter noted that police never tested the alcohol found at the scene, and the pill found by the family remains unidentified. Jetter said police described LaFountain as a ‘nice guy’, and that this could explain why he was not taken for questioning in relation to the drugs.
It took more than a day for Smith-Fields’ family to find out about her passing on the evening of December 13th. Her mother was not notified by a police officer, but by Smith-Fields’ landlord, and only after pressing learned from a detective the nature of her daughter’s death. The reason for these delays is entirely unclear, but they have prompted protests from the family, who held a rally outside the mayor’s office on January 24th. This led to the Bridgeport Police Department finally opening a criminal investigation into the case a month and a half after Smith-Fields died.
Smith-Fields’ family vocalised mistreatment they faced from the law enforcement. Bridgeport mayor Joe Ganim announced the suspension of two detectives, branding the handling of the case ‘unacceptable’. With the family planning to sue Bridgeport City Police Department, Crosland asserted, “It wouldn’t be the case if this was a white 23-year-old girl who died in her home with a black almost 40-year-old male”.
Lauren Smith-Fields’ case reflects the disproportionate number of women of colour who are marginalised when it comes to police action. Crosland’s words highlight a symptom of ‘missing white woman syndrome’, a phenomenon where cases are seen to be given more care and media attention when the victim is white.
Editor’s note: information correct at the time of writing