• LASD Scandals and the Mitrice Richardson Case •
BY ANNE SOBLE
Malibu is relatively immune from the gritty reality of much of what goes on in law enforcement—especially the county jail system. But when something happens in our backyard that is a mystery and systemic problems are exposed that may shed light on this, they cannot be ignored.
The ACLU and the FBI have ripped open the viscera of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the agency may never be viewed the same way again. While the extent of the allegations of corruption, indifference and brutality may not be regarded as local concerns, the Mitrice Richardson case is a very local issue, and we have to ask whether any insights into this case can be derived from what is being addressed countywide.
Do the descriptions of LASD treatment of the mentally ill as subjects of anger, frustration and sadism speak to how a bizarrely behaving young woman might have been treated? As noted in this week's update on the Richardson case, the deputies who took her into custody reportedly referred to her as a "ding"—which has now been divulged to be the LASD's in-house slur for the mentally ill.
If Richardson's mental illness was evident, why wasn't she 5150'd—put on involuntary hold for medical evaluation where she would have been safe? Did deputies consciously decide to ignore her mental problems? Was there peer pressure to do this? Did deputies not want to do the paperwork to 5150 a ding? Shouldn't it have been obvious that releasing a ding on her own without means to care for herself would leave her vulnerable and easy prey? Or was the problem that this was all too obvious?
If the culture of silence that pervades law enforcement in general is an impediment to the protection of those most in need of protection out in the field, is it possible there are people at Lost Hills who know more than they have made public because of the fear of retaliation? Is someone remaining silent because they fear losing their job, or even their life, as has been alleged in some of the LASD scenarios that have been reported downtown?
Anyone who might know anything at all about the Richardson case should break the code of silence and share what they know. It might be the missing clue that cracks open the case and helps to close the book on how this tragedy occurred. Public disclosure is the only way to bring an end to the brotherhood that protects the very individuals whose behavior tears the sheriff's department down.
Where else to start with public disclosure? We have little faith in the Office of Independent Review, whose contract lead attorney appears to spend more time on out-of-town jobs than on county issues, Promises made at a Compton meeting 13 months ago for additional investigation of the Richardson case have not been kept. And nothing has been done to address the LASD mishandling of remains contrary to the county coroner's directives and state law.
On a related note, Sheriff Lee Baca's office has not yet responded to the Malibu City Council's request to meet to discuss suggested changes in detainee release policies. The sheriff should make this meeting a high priority. Implementing the Malibu suggestions would show responsiveness to citizen concerns. Given the extent of the ACLU and FBI allegations, this could be the first step in a number of major changes that need to be explored if the LASD is not to become a caricature of itself.
At the press conference last year announcing that skeletal remains were identified as belonging to Richardson, Baca acknowledged that "going by the book in this case wasn't good enough." He said, "[Doing things] properly doesn't mean we couldn't have done something more." The time to do something more is now.