More than three months after the mysterious deaths of two Black women in Bridgeport, Conn., a bill advanced to the full Legislature last week requiring police in the state to notify the family of a deceased person within 24 hours of identification.
Last week, House Bill (HB) 3549, which “would require police who respond to ‘a deceased person or the remains of a person’ to notify the family within 24 hours or if not, to document the reason they failed to do so,” advanced to the full Connecticut State legislature.
This legislation was drafted in response to the mysterious deaths of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls, two black women who tragically died on the same day of last year, December 12, and both families “say they were never contact by the police in Bridgeport.”
Smith-Fields’ mother, Shantell Fields said, “When it comes to Black and brown people, you need to treat us like we’re human…I just need for everyone to be treated as a human being, and be notified of their family’s loss and to be treated with respect and kindness, which the Bridgeport department did not allow us.”
Everett Smith, her father, said, “The way that my daughter’s death was handled was simply an atrocity…[the bill is] common sense…We didn’t even get a phone call…We had to search and dig and find from a fourth party…We still have questions that need to be answered…We still have evidence that needs to be investigated. We still need the Bridgeport Police Department to step forth and do their job. My daughter’s death has been discarded, swept under the rug. And it’s disgusting. I know this bill is not going to take care of everything, but it’s a start.”
Rawls’ sister, Deirdre Owen, stated that the family has been unable to mourn the death of their loved one, and instead have had to essentially act as investigators to try and uncover what happened.
Senator Dennis Bradley, one of the co-sponsors of the bill insisted that it’s a “no-brainer. ‘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…This piece of legislation, although at its first glance sounds pretty fundamental, will be monumental to ensure that we make a bridge between police departments and families.”
This bill received widespread support from both sides of the aisle. Republican and former police officer Representative Greg Howard indicated how he is typically reticent about passing laws that would add on stress to an officer’s job, “I think, in my 20 years, that the responsibility to notify next of kin in a timely manner has always been there. Or should have always been there…I support the underlying intent of this. I think this bill works to outline how I feel police work should be being done today.”
Joe Ganim, Mayor of Bridgeport is also an outspoken supporter of the bill, stating, “This bill is about human decency, and the fact that human decency does not stop when someone dies. It extends to the living and to the family and loved ones of the deceased and should be carried out in a respectful and dignified way.”
The families of Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls deserve a settlement in their lawsuits.