Dorothy Washington says her sister Brenda Rawls lived in Bridgeport and the last the family heard from her, she was heading down the street to a man’s house on Dec. 12. Two days later, they learned she died and they have been searching for answers about her death and the investigation into it.
“It’s kind of difficult to go through the grieving process when you’re fighting for justice for a loved one,” Washington said.
Washington said she and her siblings always kept in touch.
“We would call each other every day. And we were calling her on [Dec.] 12, the 13, and we weren’t getting any returns back,” Washington said. “We were calling her as well and she wasn’t answering so we knew something was wrong.”
On Dec. 14, Washington said, her two nieces, sister and a niece’s boyfriend walked down to the man’s house, who told them, “Brenda died on Sunday and the coroner picked her up.”
She said the man handed over Brenda’s belongings.
“There was no investigation started, nothing was quarantined off," she said.
The family contacted the police, hospitals and funeral homes, looking for Brenda. One funeral home gave them advice that proved the most helpful.
“So, my sister asked ‘where would you find a loved one if some’s telling you they’re deceased?’ He suggested she call the medical examiner up in Farmington, Connecticut, and that’s where we found Brenda’s body.”
She said things got worse. Bridgeport Police never notified them of the death and they were given the wrong contact information for the detective on the case. She said she felt brushed off when she did reach Detective Angel Llanos.
“I called Llanos about four to five times, left messages for him and he never responded,” Washington said.
Llanos and Detective Cronin are now on administrative leave.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said the pair are the subject of a “Bridgeport Police Office of Internal Affairs Investigation and disciplinary action for lack of sensitivity to the public, and failure to follow police policy in the handling of these two matters.”
“That’s one step,” Washington said. “I think suspension is a joke especially if they get a paid suspension. We all know that’s vacation. I really feel like they need to dismantle Bridgeport Police Department and build from the bottom up.”
The suspension also includes the handling of the death investigation of Lauren Smith-Fields.
“To me, these incidents happened because these officers have no oversight. It appears no one has been supervising them or monitoring their performances,” said Washington, who feels the two women weren’t given the respect they deserve.
“It’s like these two women were like roadkill. Like they found them on the side of the street and probably assumed ‘Oh they’re Black, they’re female, they’re in a low-income area, nobody will come looking for them.’ That’s how we feel, that’s how my family feels,” Washington said.
Attorney Darnell Crosland said he’s told the department will create a victim’s advocate position to interact with families and handle sensitive cases like these. Crosland now represents both the families of Brenda Rawls and Lauren Smith-Fields.
“The gravity of this is that both of these cases highlight an inefficiency, an incompetence or a racial insensitivity toward Black women such as Brenda Lee Rawls and Lauren Smith-Fields that is unacceptable by this department,” Crosland said.
He said they plan to file a $30 million lawsuit against the city in the case of Smith-Fields, and a similar move could be ahead for Rawls.
“We think that a lot of times, in order to get true change, you have to have punishment, and juries punish with large verdicts because that’s the only way to send a message,” Crosland said.
In Rawls’ case, he said, they are gathering information ahead of a possible lawsuit.
He said there are crucial elements they’re still waiting on, like the cause of death, which has not been determined yet by the medical examiner. He also says it appears Llanos did not file an incident report, and it’s unclear if there is a 911 call.
Washington said they are going to continue pressing the police to find out what happened their sister.
“I have a feeling that we’re never going to know all the answers. But we’re not going to stop until we get justice for my sister,” Washington said.
She is thankful for the public interest and support and offers advice to others who may be going through the same circumstances.
“I just want to say to family members who ever go through this, if this happens to you, do not go away, do not give up because I really truly believe that is exactly what they expect you to do,” Washington said. “To walk away, to not fight. You have to fight for your family members right.”