Sheriff Suggests the Board of Supervisors Consider Increasing Amount of Reward in Mitrice Richardson Case
• City of Malibu's $15,000 Reward for Arrest/Conviction Is Still in Effect
BY ANNE SOBLE
Sheriff Lee Baca and other law enforcement officials think there are people who are not culpable themselves, but might have relevant information about the death of Mitrice Richardson that has not been provided to investigators.
These officials hope that upping the reward ante might encourage some of these individuals to step forward with what they know.
Mitrice Richardson is the 24-year-old Los Angeles woman who was found dead in Malibu Canyon backcountry in August. Her mother, Latice Sutton, maintains that she was sexual assaulted and murdered.
The African-American honors college graduate went missing after being booked at the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station on Sept. 16, 2009, for alleged nonpayment of a Malibu restaurant tab, at which time she reportedly was acting bizarrely, and alleged possession of a field-citable amount of marijuana.
Richardson was released the next morning shortly after midnight, alone, without her car, which had been taken to the Malibu impound lot, her purse, or her cell phone, in the remote industrial area where the Lost Hills Station is located.
Eleven months later, park rangers stumbled upon her partially skeletonized and mummified remains on a routine reconnaissance of a former marijuana grove less than eight miles from Lost Hills.
According to the county coroner's official report, the cause of death could not be determined.
Sources close to the investigation cite what they call a "fear factor" that could be holding informants back. They think that increasing the current $10,000 Los Angeles County reward to $25,000, or $35,000, might be sufficient incentive to override concerns about possible retaliation.
Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas authored the original county reward motion, which, now that Richardson's remains have been found, would offer "$10,000 in exchange for information leading to successful resolution of any criminal prosecution of a person or persons who were involved in her disappearance."
If the county amount is increased substantially, when added to the City of Malibu's current $15,000 reward, the total could approach close to $50,000.
City Manager Jim Thorsen told the Malibu Surfside News this week that "although the reward is not specifically included in this year's city budget, it remains in effect."
The city's reward was narrowly defined in the beginning, but as emphasis in the Richardson investigation moves increasingly toward possible homicide, the wording is on target.
The Malibu City Council motion read that the $15,000 reward is "for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson."
The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is still awaiting the specific logistics for the involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in reviewing Richardson's clothing that was recovered at the death scene and her exhumed remains.
The FBI is currently assessing how it can put its resources to best use, which sources say may take several more weeks to arrange.
Richardson's mother explained that FBI participation has been a key goal for the 16 months that she; her sister-in-law, Lauren Sutton; and close family friend and the dead woman's college mentor, Ronda Hampton, "have been working tirelessly to gather and produce facts to illustrate to Sheriff Baca" that the assistance and involvement of the FBI is warranted.
Sutton said no date has been set for the exhumation of her daughter's remains by the coroner's office, "However, I had to request a security alert be issued at the cemetery and mortuary until further notice."
She said she has been assured by Sheriff Baca, "The clothing will be sent to the FBI lab, along with Mitrice's remains once they are exhumed."
Hampton also said, "I am very appreciative that the FBI is finally being brought in on Mitrice's case, but I do think that it is unfortunate that we had to fight for so long for just the minimal in terms of investigation by law enforcement and examination by the coroner's office."
Hampton added, "I get upset because Mitrice was a person who deserves respect, and I do not think that she has been afforded that. Latice, Lauren and I have to fight for all the Mitrices in the world who do not have the ability to fight for themselves. Mitrice's disappearance, search and investigation are more than unfortunate, her treatment was criminal."
This week, the three women set up the financial structure for their recently state-approved nonprofit organization that is called "Mitrice, Inc."
The group plans to seek grants and other funding to create an entity that can provide immediate information to families of missing persons, so "they do not have to endure the long process we went through," according to Hampton.
Sutton said it took much too long for them to be taken seriously by the LASD. She stated, "In comparison to the treatment we received early on when Mitrice went missing, it's like night and day. [In the beginning] the Lost Hills Station personnel dismissed my requests, dismissed my concerns, and dismissed my appeals for help."
"That has changed, she said, "Now, when I'm at the Lost Hills Station, the captain and deputies put forth effort in accommodating my requests. However, it's important to note that the station leadership is new."
Sutton stressed that "the support of many communities, volunteers, and various media sources has been so vital in keeping law enforcement aware of Mitrice and how much she is loved. I am so grateful to everyone who participated in this long battle to find Mitrice and bring her justice."