Mitrice Richardson Case Hovers in Background as Public Safety Commission Members Urge Jail Release Policy Changes
• Majority Voices Concern about Detainees Being Left without Wherewithal in Lost Hills Area
BY ANNE SOBLE
One of the most important people at last Wednesday's City of Malibu Public Safety Commission meeting wasn't there. But her presence was keenly felt by nearly everyone on the panel and in the audience despite her having died almost two years ago.
The death of Mitrice Richardson, the 24-year-old honors college graduate whose 10-month disappearance and subsequent finding of her remains not far from the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station, where family members allege she was not given necessary medical attention and care, was not a subject for discussion at the meeting to explore detainee release policy.
Litigation by Richardson's parents against the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has resulted in all LASD personnel being restrained from discussing anything even remotely related to that case.
The Lost Hills commander, Capt. Joe Stephen, told the Malibu Surfside News, "I can't elaborate with anyone, including the commission, at this time due to those issues being litigated." He said, "Our attorneys all agree that it's best that we don't talk about these issues at this time."
Even with these constraints, however, the municipal Public Safety Commission members were able to voice concerns about the way LASD arrestees are handled and the protocol for taking people into custody and the specifics of the release process.
Commission members expressed the view that arrestees might be denied access to their cell phones and be unable to use a public telephone at the station, and made recommendations similar to ones made last year by the ostensible LASD watchdog, the Office of Independent Review.
The three majority members of the commission raised concerns that arrestees are being deprived of critical items they would need at the time of their release because they wear clothing that does not have pockets. These individuals cannot store items on their person the way that someone could who is wearing clothing with pockets.
Some of these members also wanted more surveillance equipment at the Lost Hills station to provide a record of actions that might help to resolve disputes over what did or did not happen at a point in time.
Without being specific, Stephen subsequently commented on the commissioners' requests, "We have implemented a few of the OIR recommendations mentioned in the 2010 report. A few recommendations were not considered due to the far reaching fiscal implications they would have on the entire department. Also, a few station recommendations we were not able to implement at this time, again, due to financial limitations, but we will have an opportunity to implement them at a later date."
Still, Stephen indicated to the commissioners, "We welcome suggestions from the commission. I just can't promise they will be implemented." He reminded them that policy changes have to apply to all LASD stations and reiterated the fiscal constraints currently facing the department.
Despite the restrictions on being able to provide specifics, Stephen was emphatic that "the sheriff's department's goal is to be as transparent as possible, and we greatly care about the safety and security of the citizens in the communities we serve."