Search Widens as Mitrice Richardson’s Whereabouts Are Still a Mystery
• Family Changes Tone at Latest Rally at Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station—But Concerns Remain
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
The criticism of the release of 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson with no money, cell phone or known means of transportation from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station at 1:25 a.m. on Sept. 17 has not abated, but the latest rally by family and friends on the front steps of the station last Saturday focused on outreach to anyone who might have seen the missing woman, or has information that could lead to where she might now be.
Richardson had been booked on the misdemeanor count of nonpayment of an $89.51 dinner tab at Geoffrey’s restaurant, after its staff performed a citizen’s arrest and described her behavior as “crazy,” adding that she was speaking gibberish and stating that she came from Mars.
A second misdemeanor count of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was added when her car in the restaurant’s parking lot was searched by deputies before being impounded.
Because of the release of a telephone tape of a 5:30 a.m. sighting that same morning of a woman matching Richardson’s description—African-American, five-foot-five, slight build—on foot in a backyard in the Cold Canyon area, there is a strong supposition that the woman survived the cold night clad in a T-shirt and jeans.
Whether she then, even though without any funds, might have been able to board the MTA 161 bus service that starts up in the area at 6:30 a.m. or hitched a ride is a possibility.
The City of Los Angeles Police Department detectives who are assigned to the case subscribe to this “sighting” theory. The lead LAPD detective on her case, Chuck Knolls said, “We believe she is out there somewhere, and we have a full-time effort to find her.”
Knolls indicated that there are regular briefings on the case and every lead, which has included reported sightings from Northern California to New Mexico, is followed up.
Knolls said that efforts to determine who Richardson contacted when she was given the use of a station telephone have proved unsuccessful. “We cannot determine who she called because of line problems [related to] dropped calls or other issues.”
He said papers and other items in Richardson’s impounded vehicle “did not provide any leads.”
Knolls indicated that there has been no activity on the missing woman’s checking account—which has substantial funds—or her credit cards.
At Saturday’s rally, Richardson’s father Michael also expressed the view that his daughter is alive, but may be unwilling to make her whereabouts known.
Speaking directly to his daughter, he said, “You may be scared, but you did nothing wrong. When you come back, we can fix this situation.”
Addressing people the missing woman “may be confiding in,” the father told them, “You’re doing more harm than good.” He said he knows people want to help her and described his daughter’s charismatic personality with “Mitrice could make the devil turn the heat down in hell.”
But there is still concern that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which took her into custody and is still taking part of the search under the lead of the LAPD because Richardson is a Los Angeles resident, did not move quickly enough when she was reported missing.
Her father said the first week “was detectives in nice suits and reptile shoes talking to a few people.” He said it was 10 days before a major search involving 200 personnel and volunteers combed the rugged terrain of Calabasas and Malibu near Lost Hills.
Michael Richardson said the LASD exhibited “carelessness and irresponsibility” and deputies displayed “cockiness and arrogance.” He called for an outside investigation of the agency, saying the current in-house review requested by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors doesn’t go far enough.
Although the family publicly downplays the issue of whether race might have been a factor in the handling of the case, some of Mitrice Richardson friends privately say they think otherwise.
Reluctant to allow attribution by the press, some of them think that the issues of race, gender and that Mitrice Richardson was openly gay could be relevant to the way she was treated by the LASD. They say that could also explain why she might have been reluctant to stay in a jail cell until morning—an option that was offered by the jailer who processed her release.
Speaking at the rally, LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore said that it was this jailer, described by him as “a black woman,” with whom “[Richardson engaged in] a lucid conversation about music and other topics.”
Jailers are not sheriff’s deputies, but are officially described as professional or “non-sworn” staff.
Whitmore also used the rally to reiterate the sheriff’s department stance that it did everything according to official rules.
“This is America,” Whitmore said, “When a person asks to be released, they are released....she had been booked...showed no signs of impairment and was a 24-year-old adult.”
“If we had tried to hold her against her will, that would have been overdetention,” he added.
When asked about the slow agency response to the Cold Canyon sighting and questionable conversations between deputies and Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton, Whitmore did not respond, then said, “The only thing that matters is her safe return.”
Asked a question about the woman having been released on foot in the desolate Lost Hills area, the LASD spokesperson said that if she had asked to be driven to her car “we would have,” but then he noted that “we’ve been disciplined for doing this.”
Sheriff’s department insistence to the contrary, Ronda Hampton, a clinical psychologist, in whose office Richardson did field placement while an honor student at Cal State Fullerton, told the Malibu Surfside News that the young woman was clearly under some form of stress.
Dr. Hampton said, “Mitrice’s appearance changed dramatically in a brief period of time.” She suddenly stopped straightening her hair, wearing an Afro, which some blacks might regard as more ethnic, but people who knew her said they almost didn’t recognize her.
Richardson was sending undecipherable text messages about nature and the universe, according to Hampton, and there were postings on social network sites she wouldn’t explain.
When told that Geoffrey’s staffers said Richardson told them she had no parents, Hampton said the young woman was very close to her mother.
Hampton is emphatic that there was ample information from the restaurant staff that indicated Richardson should have been held for professional psychiatric evaluation. She said the deputies missed that something was wrong with her.
One of the LASD’s critics put it more bluntly, “This was just some black woman from the inner city...nobody [in the sheriff’s department] could care less about her.”