LASD Woes Shed Light on Aspects of Mitrice Richardson Case
• Responding Deputies May Have Called Her a 'Ding'—Their In-House Slur for the Mentally Ill
BY ANNE SOBLE
The gruesome pictures emerging from the efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the American Civil Liberties Union to blow the lid off rampant abuse and mismanagement of the county jail system by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department are having repercussions well beyond the confines of downtown prison walls.
Though miles away from the county central jail, new facets of a Malibu story may develop because of disclosures of the culture of deputy violence against prisoners, especially the mentally ill, and the code of silence that protects the abusers.
Mitrice Richardson is the 24-year-old African-American honors college graduate who was taken into custody by three sheriff's 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 disoriented, speaking gibberish, saying she was from Mars, and mesmerized by bright lights and computer screens. After the restaurant manager performed a citizen's arrest, the deputies handcuffed her and transported her to the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station.
Richardson's car—with her purse 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, money, credit cards or cell phone in an unfamiliar area.
Richardson disappeared without a trace. Other than a possible sighting the morning of Sept. 17, there was no sign of her for 11 months until park rangers checking on an abandoned marijuana grove not far from that sighting location discovered what were determined to be her unclothed skeletal remains.
Last November, the coroner's office officially ruled that a cause of death could not be determined and publicly criticized the sheriff's department for impeding its investigation by mishandling the remains.
An important aspect of the current spotlight on the troubles of the sheriff's department is that the public has become aware of the word "ding." One might think that ding is slang for ding-a-ling, ding-dong or dingbat, terms often used as much for humor, or even affection, as anything else.
But there is no humor or affection in the LASD use of the word ding, which is the in-house slur for people who are mentally ill. This usage is closer to the word ding that means to hit someone over the head or injure them because that is what is alleged that a segment of LASD subculture regularly does to the mentally ill.
Ronda Hampton, a practicing psychologist and family friend who has been dedicated, first to finding the missing woman, and then to learning the cause of her death, told the Malibu Surfside News this week that she was told by a staffer at Geoffrey's some time ago that Richardson was referred to as a "ding" by the arresting deputies.
She said she brought that fact to the attention of the authorities, including the LASD and the watchdog group, the Office of Independent Review, and everyone downplayed it.
She said she began researching the term and found articles as far back as 1991 corroborating that the mentally ill are not only referred to as dings by law enforcement but "there was also a ding floor/unit at the county jail."
She asked whether the deputies' use of the term to describe Richardson meant they were aware that she was in acute mental distress. If so, she said there are even stronger grounds to challenge why they did not arrange to have her 5150'd, the procedure that would have placed her on an involuntary hold for her own safety and provided medical evaluation.
CRIME LAB RESULTS
Family members state there has been no word yet whether new information, if any, has resulted from tests being conducted by the LASD Crime Lab on Richardson's forensic samples and clothing.
Even before additional bones were discovered six months after the original skeletal find, the county coroner's office had lambasted LASD personnel for moving her remains before specially trained coroner's investigators could examine them in place. This is a violation of state law, and the coroner's report stated that it compromised the coroner office's investigation.
The Office of Independent Review, the county panel that reviews allegations of law enforcement misconduct, had previously indicated that it would be monitoring the dispute between the two agencies and was going to take another look at the case as a whole, but this appears to have taken a back seat to other higher profile department problems.
Family members and supporters are scheduled to meet with Sheriff Lee Baca at his office next month. In an email to Baca, Hampton stressed that the need to correct the department's systemic problems should not result in other issues being ignored.
She told Baca, "People should not be released from your jails in a way that renders them helpless to care for themselves. Women should not be afraid of law enforcement officers, lest they be raped and harmed by those who are supposed to serve and protect. The mentally ill should be cared for and not mocked by uncaring officers, and swift and immediate action should be taken against any officer who engages in any form of misconduct."
Hampton said she intends to keep attention focused on Mitrice Richardson until all the questions about what happened to her that can be answered have been answered.