Mitrice Richardson Investigation May Take Back Seat as Depositions Get Underway in Lawsuits Filed by Her Parents
• Family Members Say LASD Procedures When Taking Women into Custody Are 'Discriminatory'
BY ANNE SOBLE
Information flow may be reduced as all of the major participants, including family members and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department officials and personnel, are being scheduled to give depositions in litigation related to the death of Mitrice Richardson.
Richardson is the 24-year-old African-American honors college graduate who was taken into custody by LASD deputies at Geoffrey's restaurant on Sept. 16, 2009, for allegedly being unable to pay an $89 dinner check and possessing what has since become a legal amount of marijuana.
Patrons and restaurant staff described Richardson as speaking gibberish; mesmerized by bright lights and stating she was from Mars. The restaurant manager performed a citizen's arrest and three deputies transported the handcuffed woman to the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station in Agoura.
Meanwhile, Richardson's car—with her purse, credit cards and cell phone locked inside—was towed to the Malibu impound lot in the Civic Center area.
The Los Angeles resident was released from Lost Hills alone just after midnight the next morning, without a means of transportation, credit cards or cell phone in an area she didn't know.
Richardson neither contacted, nor was ever seen alive by, her family again.
Most of Richardson's skeletonized remains were found 11 months after she disappeared. Other than a possible sighting the morning of Sept. 17, 2009, there was no trace of her until park rangers checking on an abandoned marijuana grove not far from the sighting location made the grisly find.
Additional bones were then found in a repeat field check of the site this February, and authorities are awaiting DNA test results to verify whether they belong to the dead woman.
Even before the repeat search, the county coroner's office blasted LASD homicide detectives for moving the remains before coroner's investigators could examine them, an apparent violation of state law, and compromising the coroner's office investigation by their possible haste and carelessness.
The Office of Independent Review, the county watchdog over possible misconduct, is reviewing the inter-agency dispute.
OIR lead attorney Michael Gennaco has become personally involved with every aspect of the case, including taking part in trips to the remains location and making frequent contact with family members.
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation local office declined a request from Sheriff Lee Baca in January to get involved in the investigation, including examination of Richardson's clothing that was found scattered near the remains and ignored by the LASD, and exhumation of her buried remains for more in-depth analysis.
Richardson's mother Latice Sutton indicates that she is not giving up on involving the FBI. She is trying to set up a face-to-face meeting to bolster her claim that the FBI should become involved in the investigation because the LASD has "so botched up the case that it is difficult to have confidence in their professionalism and their commitment to finding out how my daughter died."
Sutton and her circle of supporters are now drafting material that addresses what they believe is a sexist, discriminatory, and therefore illegal LASD practice: sheriff's deputies requiring women to leave their purses inside their impounded vehicles when they are taken into custody.
Ronda Hampton, a family friend and one of the co-founders of Mitrice.org, a group that will lobby for public policy change, said, "Those purses contain money, credit cards, ID, cell phones, personal information and other items women will need when released."
Hampton said this is "especially critical when women are released from remote stations, such as Lost Hills, at all hours and may have to arrange their own transportation home."
She said the policy is inherently gender discrimination because most men have their money and important belongings in their trouser or jacket pockets and are not left without resources to take care of themselves.
With regard to local procedures, Hampton told the Malibu Surfside News, "I believe that the Lost Hills Station has a pattern and practice of failing to keep women from harm. Based on their routine practice of arresting women and not securing their belongings, they are rendering women helpless to care for themselves and putting them at risk of harm by human and animal predators."
The women took part in a half-hour tour of Lost Hills Station last Saturday that they said helped them understand the booking process.
Hampton said, "We walked past the jailer's desk and were allowed to enter the two holding cells, one of which was where Mitrice was placed. The cells were much smaller than they appeared in the video [of Richardson when she was being booked]."
Hampton told The News, "The cells each had a pay phone, which we were told could be used by a detainee; however, they could only make either a collect call, or use a credit card to make the call. They could also use a house phone that could be passed to them through the fenced window. The house phone is only able to make local calls. The phones are turned on for the detainee to use after their booking process is complete."
Hampton indicated that she subsequently emailed the deputy who led the tour for clarification of the telephone options, "Maybe you can clear up some confusion that I am having. Did I hear correctly that with the house phone, a detainee could only make local calls, and with the pay phone they could only make either credit card or collect calls?"
She says the answer to this could have major implications for how Richardson was treated at Lost Hills.
If Hampton's assessment of telephone options is correct, it might explain why Richardson apparently could not put through calls to her great-grandmother in Los Angeles on the house phone reportedly given to her by the jailer, as documented in the video.
At the end of the tour, the women aired their concerns about the way women are detained without critical belongings to Lost Hills officials and staff.
Hampton said, "When we explained them that this could be problematic for many women who carry their property in their purses, this seemed to fall on deaf ears. They just do not want to acknowledge that this is a dangerous practice."
A meeting between Sheriff Baca and Sutton and her supporters that was scheduled several weeks ago for Monday, March 7, was cancelled after Baca was served with a deposition in the negligence and civil rights violations lawsuit filed individually by Richardson's biological father, Michael Richardson. That suit is now consolidated with the lawsuit filed by Sutton, who raised the dead woman.
Sutton indicated that she and her group now expect to receive updates from Baca's chief of staff, Commander James Lopez, who "has agreed to continue to meet with us and remain in contact...every two weeks or so...about the progress of the ongoing investigation into Mitrice's death."
VICTIM—Family members believe Mitrice Richardson was murdered not long after she was released from Lost Hills Sheriff's Station just after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009. They have not let up their efforts to obtain FBI participation in the investigation into how she died and who may have been responsible for her death.