There was no fear in Shantell Field’s voice. The worst had already happened when she found out that her youngest child, Lauren, had been pronounced dead days after it took place. But as she and her son Lakeem Jetter began to go through the details of it afterwards, her tone tightened and a force of strength pushed through her grief as she declared, “The family, we are her voice!”
In an exclusive interview with Complex, Shantell and Lakeem shared details about Lauren’s case, starting with what happened on Dec. 29 when they were asked to give their DNA to the authorities.
“The more we fight, the more I get nervous and scared for my family,” Shantell said.
As we originally reported, the family of Lauren Smith-Fields is suing the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut in connection with the police department on the grounds of mishandling the case—which is, according to the attorney representing the family, Darnell Crosland—a violation of the 1983 Civil Rights Act.
In a now-viral tweet from Cardi B, the rapper said, “Connecticut, you have failed that young lady.” Her tweet along with involvement from rapper BIA has brought mainstream attention to the case.
Lauren was the life of the party, according to Shantell and Lakeem. She loved music and coincidentally, was a huge fan of BIA’s breakout hit “Whole Lotta Money”—the remix featuring Nicki Minaj, of course. Her mother added, “she also loved SZA’s ‘Good Days.’”
Crosland, who also spoke with Complex, confirmed on Wednesday that to date, multiple pieces of key evidence including lubrication, a used condom (with semen), a pill, and a sheet with blood stains have not been received by the lab. That evidence was found by Shantell, Lakeem, and other family members on Dec. 29, a full 17 days after Lauren’s death.
“The day that the family was there, they wanted a swab of everyone. And we were like, ‘Wait shouldn’t you be worried about the two people that were there that night,’ and Detective Garcia told us that if we didn’t give him a swab then ‘we won’t continue the investigation,’” Shantell said. Lakeem added the crime scene investigator and detective told the family that they “wanted our DNA to rule us out.”
The family didn’t provide their DNA or consent to a swab.
On Jan. 23, when Lauren would have turned 24, her family organized a march in Bridgeport that attracted local and national attention. The following day—after being told that cause of death could take 30 days—the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled her death accidental “caused by acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine, and alcohol.”
More than 1,350 people have died from drug overdoses in the state of Connecticut in 2021, according to data collected from the state. That data also says fentanyl was the main cause for overdose.
Smith-Fields’ family maintains Lauren had no history of drug use. Further, when the case made it to CourtTV, forensics expert Joseph Scott Morgan—who was also an expert correspondent during the George Floyd trial—was brought in to speak about the combination of drugs in her system.
“We’re talking about a 23-year-old young lady here,” he said. “This is not somebody who would have had time to develop these dependencies that are multilayered drugs that we’d see later on in life. I think there are some hard scientific questions that need to be asked in addition to the investigative questions.”
Of the drug allegations, Crosland said, “I think they thought we were going to shut up, and lose faith in Lauren and think she was just a drug addict. But people didn’t run away, they doubled-down.”
The day she died, the police confiscated Lauren’s cell phone, a passport, keys, a credit card, and a little over $1,300 in cash. Lauren had been pronounced dead at around 6:49 a.m.
The night before her death, she’d met 37-year-old Matthew LaFountain, a white man she’d become acquainted with through the mobile dating app Bumble. He is believed to have been the last person to see her alive. Medics said Lauren had been dead for at least an hour prior to LaFountain calling 9-1-1, according to the police report. LaFountain’s name was redacted from the initial report.
Peter Karayiannis has confirmed with the Connecticut Post that he’s representing Matthew LaFountain—though he says his client will not be making any formal statements. Per Connecticut Post, LaFountain “has not ruled out taking legal action of his own,” according to Karayiannis, who added, “It’s still too early to tell in regards to that.”
Earlier in the week, Crosland alleged a possible connection between Cronin and LaFountain during an interview with Atlanta Black Star.
According to Crosland, “They’ve been tight lipped about his involvement, but we’ve been finding out on social media that LaFountain, the individual who was with Lauren, has a huge connection with the police department and his family does as well,” further alleging that “Cronin has intentionally or negligently created a cover-up for the responsible party in Lauren’s death.
Lauren’s family was told by the landlord that someone knocked on the door that night, around the time she was said to have actually died. “The landlord said he got a knock on the door at 5:30 and he didn’t answer because it was too late. The 9-1-1 call was at 6:30 a.m., so who came and knocked on the door at 5:30?” Lakeem asked.
To the family’s knowledge, this has yet to be investigated.
It’s been widely reported that the family was told of Lauren’s death from the landlord who placed a note on the door.
“It was horrifying,” Lakeem said. “When we got there, you could see the terror in the landlord and kids eyes. They didn’t want to tell us she was dead.”
Shantell says that it looks as if Bridgeport doesn’t have a protocol in place when it comes to communicating with Black families. “They’re saying that they didn’t need us. When a person passes away, they have 24 hours to reach out by phone or knock on door.”
Detective Kevin Cronin was removed from the case after alleged misconduct, pending an ongoing investigation with internal affairs. As of today, the Fields family has not seen Cronin in person, but their interaction with him—which has been exclusively over the phone—has been enough to get him removed from the case and placed on administrative leave.
Crosland alleged on Wednesday the possibility of an inappropriate relationships within the precinct. “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.”
Shantell and Lakeem remember walking into the police precinct and being treated as “suspects,” they said. Where they thought they would have been meeting in a regular room used for non-criminals or persons of interest, they were instead put in a tiny interrogation room.
When the family walked into the precinct, Shantell says the entire room stopped. Everyone looked up “and they gave us dirty looks.” Lakeem added, “It was scary! They were yelling at our lawyer, telling him to shut up and grabbing their guns.”
The family was told they were there to have a meeting with the police officers involved with the case.
“They didn’t want to answer any questions about the case,” Shantell said.
It was recently announced that the case would become a homicide investigation, led by the Bridgeport Police.
The family has lost confidence in the Bridgeport Police as they’ve expressed consistently. “It’s more smoke and mirrors,” Lakeem said. “They just want it to go away,” Shantell added.
Crosland plans to get the Department of Justice involved. “We are sending a letter to the DOJ in DC and ask that a case manager be assigned to this case and come with a team. We need help from an outside agency to oversee this, because we don’t have confidence that they can do this on their own,” he said.
A study conducted by criminologist Zach Sommers in 2016 deals directly with Missing White Woman Syndrome—a term originally coined by news correspondent Gwen Ifill. Sommers told CNN, “As a culture we are readily willing to accept stories about White folks as victims as something we should care about.” He added, “When we see a White person who has gone missing, we say that could be my daughter, neighbor or cousin or friend… and they identify with that person and are more likely to read the story than we would if it were a person of color.”