Judge in Mitrice Richardson Litigation Considers Streamlining Complaint
• Defendants Who Were Not Actually Present When Woman Was in Custody May Be Dismissed
BY ANNE SOBLE
The judge now hearing arguments in the Mitrice Richardson negligence, wrongful death and civil rights violations lawsuit—a consolidation of separate suits filed by her unmarried parents against Los Angeles County—indicated this week that he may begin parsing portions of the legal actions to focus on the core contentions.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey reviewed the list of sheriff's department officials, deputies and civilian personal named as defendants and stated he is considering whether to grant motions to dismiss parties who were not present when the 24-year-old African-American honors college graduate was released from the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station just after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009, alone without a means of transportation, money, credit cards or cell phone.
Richardson had been arrested the night before for alleged nonpayment of an $89 dinner tab in a Malibu restaurant where the Los Angeles resident was described as dazed, speaking gibberish and stating that she was from Mars. She was taken into custody by Lost Hills deputies and transported to the station in Calabasas.
Subsequent professional assessments indicated the woman may have been experiencing a bipolar episode after spending five sleepless days in her car. The lawsuits contend that deputies were negligent in not getting her needed medical attention and assuring her safety.
Richardson went missing after her release. Almost a year later, most of her remains were found by park rangers checking on an abandoned Malibu Canyon area marijuana grove about eight miles from the sheriff's station, near where she is believed to have been sighted on foot several hours after she left LHSS.
Richardson's cause of death is still undetermined. Family members believe the aspiring doctoral candidate and beauty pageant competitor was sexually assaulted and murdered.
If Judge Fahey grants the dismissals, among those who would be included are Sheriff Lee Baca, named in the suit by Richardson's biological father, Michael Richardson; and the then captain of the Lost Hills Station, Tom Martin, who was named by her mother, Latice Sutton, who raised the dead woman.
In addition, on Monday, the judge explored the issue of the extent of the remoteness of the Lost Hills facility, but he did not address the related issues of the industrial area's poor exterior lighting, access to 24-hour public transportation, or the options available for someone on foot who did not have any money.
Richardson's purse, containing important belongings, had been locked inside her vehicle by deputies when it was impounded, which appears to be a standard Lost Hills booking procedure for females.
Attorney Leo Terrell, who is representing Sutton, said this kind of streamlining of defendants by a judge is typical, and he "is very confident" the judge will want to focus on Richardson being taken into custody and released and who took part in that process.
Terrell said that he expects the names of all Los Angeles Sheriff's Department personnel who had any contact with Richardson to remain part of the litigation.
Nevertheless, Terrell added that he thought it was important to tell Fahey that despite repeated family member and media requests, Martin did not reveal that there was an LASD video of Richardson being brought into the station and placed in the booking cage. It was subsequently disclosed that Martin had kept the video in his desk for four months.
Terrell told the Malibu Surfside News that he "is very confident" the judge will determine the litigation warrants the setting of a trial date after denying the obligatory county requests for summary judgment.
The attorney added that he does "not think this will ever go to trial" because Los Angeles County will not want a public spotlight on sheriff's department procedures and practices.
Richardson family members have been monitoring whether the results of the DNA analysis of the eight bones found in a repeat field search of the Malibu Canyon area remains site in February have been received by the county coroner's office.
Department of Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter told The News this week his office can no longer comment publicly on the case.