Lauren Smith-Fields would have turned 24 this Sunday. The social media influencer was planning to board a plane to Greece with her grandmother—now a march is taking place in her honor to demand justice for what is being referenced once more as, “missing white woman syndrome.” More importantly, her family is suing the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut alleging the police department mishandled the case and was “racially insensitive.”
“We have seen the amount of resources that have gone to other cases involving missing white women like Gabby Petito and we know so many Black women are missing so much in this country,” said attorney for the family, Darnell Crosland to NBC Connecticut. Missing white woman syndrome was recently referenced by MSNBC host Joy Reid who commented at the height of the hunt for Gabby Petito on the disproportionate rates to which Black women go missing and die under mysterious and unsolved circumstances.
As previously reported, Smith-Fields, 23, met Matthew LaFountain, a 37-year-old white design engineer on the mobile dating app Bumble last year. On December 12, Fields was found unresponsive in her home where she later died.
The hashtag #JusticeForLaurenSmithFields on TikTok has received over 4.2 million views with influencers bringing light to the lack of media coverage for missing and murdered Black women. One Black content creator, @safia is calling for a boycott of Bumble, saying, “Bumble, the dating platform that literally profits and became a billion dollar company off of their promise to keep women safe, is now silent about the role they might have played in the death of Lauren Smith-Fields.” To date, that video has over 200,000 likes.
Bumble most recently reached out to the family via Crosland and has offered to start a foundation in Smith-Field’s name.
When Petito went missing, a national manhunt was launched, captivating both TV and social media. Even after her body was found and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie was discovered to be her killer, additional evidence continues to make headlines as recently as a few days ago when the FBI discovered his journal in which he admitted to killing Petito.
In 2020, over 268,884 girls and women were reported missing in the United States, according to the National Crime Information Center. A third of those reported missing were Black.
Smith-Fields’ family first learned of her death from the landlord when they went to the apartment after calling her for days and not getting a response. The police initially confiscated her phone along with $1,345 in cash, keys, and her passport. There was a note on the front door written by the landlord that read: ‘If you’re looking for Lauren’ call the number.’
LaFountain says he’d known Smith-Fields for 3 days prior to their first and only in-person date. He told the police that the two met in person on December 11 when, he alleges, she asked him to bring her $40 to get her nails done, and a bottle of tequila. The incident report states he arrived to her residence at 9:30 p.m.
He claims to have never had her number—having only communicated with her through Instagram.
Eventually, according to the incident report, the two “played some games, ate some food, and started to watch a movie.”
LaFountain alleges Smith-Fields began to vomit after a few shots of tequila. At some point during the night, he says, she went outside to meet her brother. After she returned, she spent 15 minutes in the bathroom—he said that “seemed strange,” but decided to continue to drink and watch the movie. The two both slept in her bed until 6:30 a.m. when he noticed blood coming out of her nostril—that’s when he called 9-1-1. She was pronounced dead at 6:49 a.m., though the incident report states she’d been dead for at least an hour before then.
The family has expressed several concerns with the incident report—starting with the initial details. Smith-Fields’ mother Shantell Fields told Rolling Stone, her daughter had just gotten her nails done a few days before their meeting. In fact, her nails were so fresh, they didn’t need to be redone for her funeral. Further, her brother, Lakeem Jetter told Rolling Stone that police told him that the reason they didn’t bring LaFountain into questioning was because he seemed like a “nice guy.”
Crosland, filed notice of claim on Friday, accusing the police of not taking the investigation seriously. Of the family’s multiple reasons—not conducting a thorough investigation of the apartment is key.
The claim further alleges Smith-Field’s rights and the rights of her family have been violated under the 1983 Civil Rights Act when the city and police department failed to provide due process afforded them under the 14th Amendment, per NBC. That post-Civil War Constitution addition is meant to provide equal protection under the law for all citizens, including previously enslaved Black people.
Two weeks after her death, the family had to emphatically urge the police to search the apartment. Afterwards, they found a used condom filled with semen and a pill—both found in the bathroom. Crosland said the family was told by the police that the condom and pill were taken to the lab for analysis. Though no results have been shared with the family or public.
In 2019, former police chief Armando J. Perez was sentenced to a year behind bars for his role in defrauding the city by rigging the 2018 police chief examination in an effort to solidify his position. City Council Member Maria Pereira says that the city of Bridgeport currently has over 100 police vacancies and said during a press conference about Smith-Field’s death, “As somebody who was born and raised here, Bridgeport is incredibly corrupt. Most people know we had a police chief who went to prison, we’ve had five public officials indicted by the feds, and we had a mayor who went to federal prison.”
Smith-Fields was a student at Norwalk Community College for cosmetology.
Her case remains open and the medical examiner still hasn’t determined a cause of death. There’s a GoFundMe campaign enacted by the family to help offset the cost of private investigators and autopsies. They’ve reached close to $33,000 of their $50,000 ask.