There Are Similarities to Mitrice Richardson Case in Woman's Release from Lost Hills
• Richardson's Mother Says Station Must Change Its Practices •
BY ANNE SOBLE
Annette Coffey is soft-spoken during a telephone call from the Santa Barbara area on Monday. She told the Malibu Surfside News that she is "still in shock," and she doesn't remember everything that happened during her "horrifying experience" at the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station, where she said she "was treated badly, [her] questions were ignored, and [she] was given no help with out-of-order phones."
On Sunday morning, Coffey was in an automobile accident in the area, and she said, "Because of a registration technicality," her car was impounded and taken to a tow yard in the West Valley.
She said the responding deputies then took her into custody, and transported her to Lost Hills where she was booked on allegations of driving under the influence, but was not given a sobriety test; possession of drug paraphernalia, but she doesn't know what they are referring to; and possession of hypodermic needles that she asserts are clearly labeled for "medical purposes and not to be used as evidence" of illegal drug use.
Coffey said the needles were used for subcutaneous injections of medication when she was undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer and hepatitis C.
She said she had never heard of Mitrice Richardson, so didn't know that she was being told to do what Richardson was told to do, leave her purse with several hundred dollars, credit cards and her cell phone locked inside the vehicle.
At Lost Hills, Coffey said she was kept in an area "that was freezing," and given a telephone that would only "beep," which was also similar to what appears to be the case on the Richardson videotape.
She was released out of the same side door of the sheriff's station as Richardson was. But there are also major differences. Coffey was released in mid-afternoon. She is what society insists on describing as white. She is 43 and, by her own description, she didn't look very good that day.
Coffey said that when she walked out into the Lost Hills parking lot, she had not eaten all day and was beginning to feel unsteady because the chemotherapy had altered her metabolism. She said that she barely had enough energy to cry.
She was standing there crying, when three women walked over to her and asked if they could help.
They had been at Lost Hills when a sheriff's spokesperson was addressing issues related to a case of another release from Lost Hills Station. The three had left for a brief interval and returned to their parked cars.
The women were Mitrice Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton; her aunt, Lauren Sutton; and family friend and clinical psychologist Ronda Hampton, three people who were all-too-familiar with the station's release policies.
Coffey said the women asked what was wrong and offered to help. All of then went into the station to try to work out a way for her to get access to her purse.
Sutton said that when the four walked into the station; the deputy at the front desk treated them rudely. He then called a female law enforcement technician to the front desk, who Sutton and Hampton said was even ruder. Hampton said she "rolled her eyes" as she listened with an "uninterested, if not disdainful expression."
Sutton told The News, "Their behavior reminded me of how I was treated when I filed the missing person report after Mitrice was released."
They made arrangements to be allowed to drive Coffey to the tow yard, where the women said they encountered an unpleasant employee who they had to threaten to report to Lost Hills if he didn't assist. He got her purse from the car and inventoried the contents.
The trio then helped Coffey to arrange transportation to Santa Barbara County; Sutton said they resolved to file a complaint as soon as they could send an email to Sheriff Lee Baca's chief of staff, Commander James Lopez.
When the Malibu Surfside News contacted the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department media liaison Steve Whitmore, he emailed, "Yes, they have a filed a complaint with Commander James Lopez and it is being investigated. In fact, the station and the OIR have already begun looking at the pertinent information"
When The News contacted the office of the Lost Hills commander to request basic information about Coffey and to try to verify her statements, as well as obtain the names of the persons on duty at that time, Lt. Steve Smith, in charge of operations at LHSS emailed: "Based on the allegations made regarding the release of Ms. Coffey, an inquiry is currently being conducted. For this reason, your requested Information regarding the involved employees will not be permitted to be released to you."
In a subsequent email to Whitmore, Sutton wrote," It should never be an option to make a woman leave her purse containing her cell phone, money, credit cards, and identification in the vehicle while being detained, and then release her with no way to care of herself, especially when she lives more than 30 miles away. This pattern of practice must be changed. It is negligent and more people will be harmed, even killed, if this practice continues."
Coffey becomes choked up as she expresses her appreciation to the three women. "I was supposed to start walking, but I didn't even what direction to go." She said the three women "were there for me like angels."
The News has received the details of two additional cases where women were released to walk long distances to obtain assistance to get back to their homes that are still being researched.
If any or all of these stories prove accurate, they may be an indication that Lost Hills has not made any attempt to address the minimal wrist-slaps it received from the county Office of Independent Review last year.