Mitrice Richardson’s Father Challenges Attorney’s Negligence Claims Filed against Los Angeles County
• Charges and Countercharges Could Have Impact on Case of Woman Missing for Over Four Months
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
What is already acknowledged as a terrible tragedy, in that a young woman was arrested on two otherwise citable misdemeanor counts, transported to the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station on Sept. 16, ostensibly released at 12:30 a.m. the next day, and now has been missing for over four months, has taken on a new dimension as her separated parents and the attorney who seemingly represented them pro bono are engaged in a heated public dispute.
Latice Sutton and Michael Richardson are the parents of 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson, the Cal State Fullerton honors graduate who medical experts think may have been experiencing a bout of severe mental illness when she engaged in what was described as totally unusual behavior for her, which included acting bizarrely and not paying an $89.51 dinner tab at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu.
The parents, who never married, have for the most part presented a united front when claiming that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department acted negligently in allowing the young woman to leave the Lost Hills Station alone, on foot (her vehicle was impounded in Malibu), poorly attired for cold weather and without money or her cell phone, which was kept by the LASD for as yet undisclosed reasons.
This front appeared to have broken down when civil rights attorney Leo Terrell, who has repeatedly appeared with both parents at rallies and press conferences, indicated that he filed separate claim papers for the mother and father on Jan. 6, the first step in a possible lawsuit against Los Angeles County for negligence. The form names nine sheriff’s deputies, as well as “all persons” who had contact with Mitrice Richardson during any stage of her arrest, booking or release process. No sum for damages is indicated in the paperwork.
When the filing became public in the media and was described as a family claim, Michael Richardson sent out emails and put a post on his blog saying that this information is incorrect.
Michael Richardson’s post states that he “has not filed a claim” and adds, “Leo Terrell has not been retained by Michael Richardson, does not represent Michael Richardson and never has represented Michael Richardson.”
In a subsequent email to the Malibu Surfside News, Michael Richardson said, “Add that the father is appalled that an attorney would do something like this in this day and age. I can’t believe that people are still doing [Mitrice Richardson] wrong even with her being missing. This was ugly and tacky, and it has turned a lot of people off from wanting to continue with the search and [following up on] what the sheriff’s [deputies] did to her that night.”
The father said filing the claim encourages those people who “believe I am just another black person they can throw some money at to buy some gold and a Cadillac and I will be happy. This time I want justice and to find my daughter at this time. I still need those who believe as I do, that Mitrice Richardson still can be found.”
Leo Terrell on Tuesday responded that if Richardson does not remove these comments from his blog and “if he doesn’t retract his statements, I will take legal action.” Terrell said he served as the father’s attorney until Jan. 14 and is so described on the man’s website, in numerous broadcast interviews, including Terrell’s own radio program, in communications with the county, and countless other contexts. He noted that after that date, Richardson retained separate counsel, Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris and Hoffman, with whom Terrell is in contact and has told, “I will sue him for slander if he continues this.”
Terrell said he filed the paperwork for separate claims for each parent. He said Michael Richardson has been asking him to file for months. “Even now, when I asked Richardson if he wants his claim withdrawn, he said no.”
Terrell said Michael Richardson was largely out of his daughter’s life for about 10 years until she was 13. The father counters that the pair are now close, he is the one who emphasizes that she is alive and he has overseen the effort to get federal involvement in the search for her. The father said he prefers to act on his own rather than work with other family members. which he added may have ruffled feathers.
Terrell stressed that no one should interpret the filing to be an indication that anyone believes that Mitrice Richardson is dead. He said the timing of the filing was necessary to protect family members’ legal rights to seek redress.
Both the LASD and the Los Angeles Police Department—the lead agency in what is still a missing person case—previously stated that peripheral family issues do not impact the agencies’ determination to find the missing woman.
Terrell expressed concern that the public dispute over the claim filing could impact public interest in the missing woman’s case. If any consensus remains, it is that everyone wants Mitrice Richardson to be found soon, so she can take whatever legal action she wants to take on her own behalf.