March for Mitrice Richardson Marks the Date She Went Missing in 2009
• City Council Looks at Recommendations for LASD Changes to Try to Prevent Similar Tragedies
BY ANNE SOBLE
A march in memory of Mitrice Richardson took place last Saturday to mark the two-year anniversary of the date the 24-year-old Los Angeles resident mysteriously disappeared in 2009.
Richardson went missing the day she was released from the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station after being booked on two field-citable charges following a citizen's arrest at Geoffrey's restaurant for non-payment of an $89 dinner tab.
The whereabouts of the honors college graduate, beauty pageant competitor, and aspiring psychologist remained unaccounted for until her skeletal remains were discovered 11 months later by park rangers in a remote Malibu Canyon location that was the site of a former marijuana grow.
Friends and family were joined on Saturday by people who saw an announcement for the "March for Mitrice" event hosted by Mitrice, Inc., the nonprofit group formed in Richardson's memory to try to bring about social change in areas where injustice is perceived.
That Sept. 17 is Constitution Day added another dimension to the day's symbolism for those who believe that Richardson's civil rights were violated. Constitution Day commemorates the final drafting and signing of the document in 1787.
March participants gathered just after dawn to trace what may have been Richardson's final steps—from a residence in Monte Nido, where she is thought to have been sighted on the morning she was released, to the entrance to Dark Canyon on Piuma Road.
A hand-carved wooden signpost at Dark Canyon marks the way to the creek area where Richardson's nude and partially mummified skeletal remains were found. One leg was at a separate location, and some of the garments she was wearing when she left Lost Hills were scattered in the area near the remains.
The details of the grisly find are a painful image for many of the march participants who hold different theories about whether Richardson was killed elsewhere and moved to the remote spot, or died at the site littered with the detritus of the pot farm.
Coordinating Saturday's memorial effort was the dead woman's college mentor and friend, psychologist Ronda Hampton, and the dead woman's aunt, Lauren Sutton. They brought yellow and orange biodegradable balloons and sunflowers of the same colors—Richardson's favorite flower.
Participants tied solitary balloons at locations along the route. At the conclusion of the march, marked by prayers, tears, memories and resolve to prevent a recurrence of what they believe to be the negligent release of someone experiencing a mental crisis, the remaining balloons were let loose at the canyon entrance.
When the balloons were released at the conclusion of the march, Pastor Robert Hendricks of New Testament Church in Los Angeles, where Richardson's funeral services were held, looked up and said one of the balloons appeared to be leading the way.
Hampton said afterward, "There was a silence that was comforting…and [this] brought us a sense of peace." She said, "I left feeling even more committed to uncovering the mystery behind Mitrice's death, but also with a firm commitment to play a part in changing the policy of releasing people from jail in such a dangerous manner as Mitrice and others have been released."
Hampton plans to speak at the Monday, Sept. 26, meeting of the Malibu City Council, when members will address a recommendation from a majority of the municipal Public Safety Commission and consider whether to "request that the sheriff's department consider a change in policy to have local stations allow detainees to be released only between sunrise to sunset unless proper transportation has been secured."
In addition, a majority of the PSC recommends that "all arrestees be permitted to retain possession" of their wallet, cell phone or other personal possessions to assure their personal safety after release. Currently, the action is a discretionary determination by the arresting deputy, and detainees are often required to leave any belongings in an impounded vehicle that are not already on their person.
This was reportedly the case with Richardson, who was released just after midnight with no purse, money, credit cards, or cell phone, all of which had been placed in her locked vehicle that was impounded in Malibu.