An attorney for the family of Black 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields has said her Bumble date’s story “doesn’t add up” and that the older white man has been “acting evasive” ever since she was found dead from a mystery overdose the morning after they met up.
Darnell Crosland, who is representing Ms Smith-Fields’s family, told The Independent that there are inconsistencies in the statements made by Matthew LaFountain in a police incident report and the evidence inside the apartment where the 23-year-old died.
“He said in the police report that he slept with his clothes on and that they didn’t have sex,” he said.
“Take a look in the bathroom and you see a condom still had semen on it, it wasn’t dried up … it doesn’t add up.”
Mr Crosland said, as the last person to see Ms Smith-Fields alive, Mr LaFountain should have been treated as a person of interest from the start.
But, because Bridgeport Police Department did not gather evidence – including the used condom and alcohol bottles that they drank from the night before – from the scene in the immediate aftermath, investigators have been unable to prove or disprove his version of events.
Ms Smith-Field, a Stanford High School graduate, was found dead in her apartment in Bridgeport, Connecticut, back on 12 December after going on a date with Mr LaFountain the night before.
Mr LaFountain, a 37-year-old design engineer, was the last person to see her alive and called 911 that morning saying he found her unresponsive and with blood coming from her right nostril, the police report said.
For six weeks, Ms Smith-Fields’s family has been demanding answers around her death and has slammed the police department’s handling of the case, with investigators insisting from the get-go that there was no sign of foul play and declining to name Mr LaFountain a person of interest in her death.
This week, Bridgeport Police finally launched a criminal investigation into her death after the autopsy found she died from overdosing on a cocktail of drugs including fentanyl, prescription drugs, and alcohol.
Now, Mr Crosland says the family fears too much valuable time and evidence has already been lost to get to the bottom of what happened to her.
“We’ve said from the beginning that this case should have been treated as a criminal investigation,” he tells The Independent.
“All experts agree that you start by taking a criminal standpoint and then you dial it back if you don’t find anything criminal.
“You want to quarantine the area and do a crime scene investigation. You take a statement from the last person to see them alive and treat that person as a person of interest.”
Mr LaFountain has remained publicly silent on Ms Smith-Fields’s death before releasing a statement through his attorney Peter Karayiannis on Wednesday in which he offered condolences to her family, said he had been cooperative from the start of the investigation, and was “willing to do whatever it takes to assist law enforcement”.
The 37-year-old has not been charged with any crime and is not named as a suspect or person of interest in Ms Smith-Fields’ death.
Mr Crosland pushed back on the statement, saying it provided no “comfort” to Ms Smith-Fields family.
He questioned why the 37-year-old had not come forward to voluntarily offer DNA samples and why he had been “acting evasive”, by changing his name on social media.
“We know that after she died he changed his name on social media and has been acting evasive so we’re not comforted by his wishing of condolences and his blanket statement of being willing to help,” says Mr Crossland.
“The family feels that if this gentleman was the last person with their daughter before she died he should have already called my office or had his lawyer call my office and express that he really wants to help us figure out what happened here.
“Also he should voluntarily give a DNA swab so we can compare it to the condom and other items of value in the house such as the alcohol bottles.”
Lauren Smith-Fields’ family said she didn’t use drugs as questions mount over her death
Mr Crosland said that Ms Smith-Field did not use drugs and so questioned how the medical examiner could rule her death an accident without determining how the drugs got into her system.
“It tells people to close the case and turn their backs on a Black girl like she doesn’t exist,” he said.
“Experts are calling this a cocktail of drugs and saying that no one in their right mind would say give me a shot of fentanyl with promethazine and hydroxyzine and then wash it down with alcohol.
“That would be worse that drinking gallons of Clorox.”
He added: “[Mr LaFountain} said they were drinking. They should have tested the alcohol bottles straight away to see if there was anything in there.”
Police were called to Ms Smith-Fields’ apartment around 6:45am on 12 December by Mr LaFountain who said he had met her three days earlier on Bumble and had gone on a date with her the night before her death.
The man told investigators he came to her apartment that night and that they were drinking a bottle of tequila together, according to a police report.
He said she went to the bathroom to vomit at one point, before they continued to drink, eat food and watch a movie, the report says.
The man told investigators she received a text at one point and briefly went outside, saying she was returning some clothes to her brother.
When she returned, she went into the bathroom for around 15 minutes, the man told investigators.
He said she fell asleep on the couch and he carried her to her bed, lying down and going to sleep next to her, the report says.
The next morning, he said he woke to find Ms Smith-Fields wasn’t breathing and that she had blood coming from her right nostril, according to the report.
The man called 911 and officers arrived on the scene to find the 23-year-old “lying on her back, on the floor” and that she did not appear to be breathing.
She was pronounced dead at the scene and responding medics said she had been dead for at least an hour.
The medical examiner released her cause of death on Monday as “acute intoxication” from fentanyl combined with prescription medications promethazine and hydroxyzine and alcohol. Her manner of death was ruled an accident.
Bridgeport Police announced the following day that its narcotics and vice division was opening a criminal investigation with the help of the US Drug Enforcement Administration to determine “the factors that lead to her untimely death”.
Mr Crosland said that the launch of the probe “is an emblem of sunshine” to Ms Smith-Fields’s family after being left in the dark since her death.
However, he said they now need to be “realistic about the lost time”.
“Now it is so late in the game to make this a criminal investigation that they may have lost valuable evidence,” he said.
Mr Crosland said it is crucial that the investigation isn’t “turned into just a drug investigation and is an investigation into a crime against a person”.
He is now also demanding the release of the 911 call made by Mr LaFountain on the morning of Ms Smith-Fields’s death.
He said the mayor has finally also agreed to meet with him and Ms Smith-Fields’s family, together with the police chief and other officials working on the case, after they have raised complaints about the handling of the case.
He also plans to send a letter to the US Department of Justice to request that they conduct an independent investigation into the handling of her death.
The launch of the criminal probe came only after her family threatened to sue city and police officials over their alleged mishandling of the investigation into her death.
Mr Crosland announced on what would have been Ms Smith-Fields’s 24th birthday on Sunday that they were filing a lawsuit for violating their civil rights and failing to properly investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death.
In a notice of claim, filed by Mr Crosland and naming Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim and Acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia among others, the family alleges that the Bridgeport Police Department failed to adequately collect physical evidence from the 23-year-old’s home as part of the probe, including a sedative pill, a used condom, the bloodstained bedsheet and alcohol bottles.
Officers also refused to consider Mr LaFountain as a person of interest and have been “racially insensitive” to Ms Smith-Fields’s family, the notice said.
They also allegedly failed to notify her family members of her death, leaving them to learn of her death when they showed up at her apartment concerned for her safety and saw a note on the door.
One investigator allegedly described Ms Smith-Fields’s date to the family as “like a nice guy”.
Mr Crosland told The Independent that if the races of Black 23-year-old Ms Smith-Fields and white 37-year-old Mr LaFountain were reversed, the investigation would have gone down a very different route.
“Look at the Gabby Petito’s – when a white woman goes missing, the world goes crazy,” he said.
“And police accountability doesn’t mean don’t just put your knees on the necks of Black people but it’s about taking seriously the issues of Black victims.
“The suspect was a white man and they say he seems ‘like a nice guy’ so off you go.
“The victim was a Black female and they dragged her out of her apartment and sent her to the medical examiner’s office and locked the door.”
He added: “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.
“That just wouldn’t happen in America in that scenario.
“And if people want to say we’re playing the race card they can go to hell.”