County Told to Give Lost Hills Video to Mitrice Richardson's Parents
• Former Station Commander Denied Video's Existence But It Was Being Kept in His Desk
BY ANNE SOBLE
Lawyers for the parents of Mitrice Richardson expect to receive copies of a video this week showing her behavior inside the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station booking cage after a judge denied a Los Angeles County motion to quash their subpoena on Tuesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey ordered lawyers for the county to turn over the video and also ordered the release of all law enforcement records generated from Sept. 16, 2009, when the Cal State Fullerton honors graduate was arrested, through Dec. 10, 2009.
The Los Angeles Police Department was in charge of the missing-person investigation during that time, because Richardson lived with her great-grandmother Mildred Hughes in South Los Angeles prior to her disappearance and death.
The LAPD and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department argued that making the records public could jeopardize the investigation of Richardson's death, but the judge agreed with the parents' attorneys.
The judge also tentatively scheduled a September trial date, if settlement is not reached before then, on the wrongful death suits that Richardson's parents, Michael Richardson and Latice Sutton, who never married and have a contentious relationship, filed separately against the county last year.
These lawsuits have now been consolidated. If they go to a jury, the jury will be asked to render separate verdicts for each parent.
Sutton's counsel is civil rights activist Leo Terrell, The father is represented by another noted civil rights attorney Benjamin Schonbrun.
Terrell told the Malibu Surfside News Tuesday that the parents' attorneys will meet this week to begin scheduling depositions of LASD and LAPD personnel and others who are involved in the case.
Mitrice Richardson went missing after being booked at the Lost Hills Station on Sept. 16, 2009, for alleged nonpayment of a Malibu restaurant tab, at which time the 24-year-old reportedly was acting bizarrely, and for possession of what is no longer an illegal amount of marijuana.
She was released the next morning shortly after midnight, alone, without her car, which had been towed to the Malibu impound lot, her purse, or her cell phone, in the remote industrial area where the station is located.
Eleven months later, park rangers stumbled upon the honors college graduate's skeletonized and mummified remains on a routine patrol of a former marijuana grove less than eight miles from Lost Hills in the Malibu Canyon backcountry.
The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office officially ruled that a cause of death could not be determined and criticized the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department for impeding its investigation by mishandling the remains.
Terrell said the judge was aware that he and his client were told there was no video of Richardson. The Malibu Surfside News quoted former Lost Hills Captain Tom Martin when he stated in an email and commented in October 2009 that "there is no video or tape of any kind" of her at Lost Hills.
But five months later, on March 29, 2010, Sutton, and a small group of supporters were shown an approximately two-hour tape that reportedly had been "hidden" in Martin's desk at the Lost Hills Station.
In a conference call with The News the next day, Sutton and the others who saw the video said Richardson appears stressed in the "booking cage," the mesh-enclosed holding pen for the booking process. "She clutches at the mesh screening and is rocking side-to-side like a small child."
Sutton said, "It looks as if she can't make the telephone [put through] the calls" the booking records say she attempted to place to her great-grandmother, who has told family members that she did not receive any calls from Lost Hills.
Sutton added it looks as if her daughter is seeking assistance from station personnel and "is being ignored."
Richardson is described as tugging at her hair. "Clearly something is very wrong," Ronda Hampton, a psychologist who was one of the viewers, said. "This is not normal behavior. At one point, [she] appears to be trying to get into a fetal position face down."
Another aspect of the viewing that disturbed Sutton is that she said she was told at that time by Lt. Michael Rosson, the LASD investigator on the case, that her daughter was taken to Lost Hills because she had no identification, but the booking slip indicates she had her California driver license in her possession .
Sutton and others were upset to notice that a uniformed deputy can be seen exiting the station right after Richardson left it and they interpreted this ominously.
When raising other issues about the tape, Hampton said there appear to be what she called "blips" in the tape, sounds that she thinks reflect some form of editing.
The Malibu Surfside News has requested access to the video since it was first acknowledged, but this week's court action limits it to the parents under a confidentiality agreement.
In December 2010, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca announced that he had requested that the FBI become involved in the case.
In the almost two months since that request was made public by Baca, there has been no response from the FBI other than spokespersons indicating that the matter is still under review.
BOOKING PHOTO—Family members say Mitrice Richardson looks exhausted and disoriented at Lost Hills Sheriff's Station and note she may have been sleep deprived for days and dealing with the onset of a bipolar episode.
FAMILY PHOTO—Richardson was an honors college grad with a 4.0 GPA, a beauty pageant competitor and a dancer who was described as having a vivacious personality by family and friends.