Baca Issuance of Written Detainee Station Release Policy Made Public
• New Directive Is Designed to Improve Safety in the Aftermath of the Mitrice Richardson Case
BY ANNE SOBLE
The Malibu City Council is still awaiting word from Sheriff Lee Baca about when he will be able to meet with some of its members about a council policy recommendation that was unanimously approved nine weeks ago regarding the protocol for release of detainees from local sheriff's stations, but he discussed the matter with friends and family members active in the Mitrice Richardson case at a meeting with them last week.
Ronda Hampton, the psychologist who spearheaded much of the search and investigation campaign for Richardson, a 24-year-old Los Angeles honors college graduate who was booked at Lost Hills Sheriff's Station on misdemeanor charges over two years ago, released at minutes past midnight on foot without her wallet, money or cell phone, and was missing for 11 months before her skeletal remains were discovered in Malibu Canyon backcountry in August 2010, is now redirecting the focus of this group to the broader issues of detainee release policies, as well as law enforcement oversight in general.
Sheriff Baca told the people at the meeting in his office that he had implemented a formal change in writing of detainee release policy that was approved May 22, 2011, and distributed during subsequent months to field operations.
Policy 5-03/200.03 titled "Property Retained at Time of Arrest," reads, "The arresting deputy shall, when practicable, book with the arrestee certain personnel items or items of personal identification in possession of the arrestee at the time of arrest (e.g. driver license, passport, credit cards, cellular telephone, etc.) when the items would provide proof of identification and/or facilitate the identification/booking or release procedure."
However, as articulated, this policy clarification does not go as far as the citizen activists involved in the Richardson case would like it to because they think the policy should be mandatory. As evident with the use of the words "when practicable," the policy remains at the discretion of the arresting deputy.
But LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore told the Malibu Surfside News on Tuesday that there will "always be a discretionary" component in all LASD policy. He said what is new about the May 2011 wording is that whereas this aspect of release policy used to be informal protocol that would usually have been done, "once it is put in writing, it is a whole different animal." He said, "It is now policy."
Whitmore said that a deputy who "does not adhere to this policy will have to have a very good reason not to do so."
He said Baca sees this written directive as a direct response to the circumstances of the Richardson case. At earlier press conferences, Baca has repeatedly stated that he does not want anyone to be released in an unsafe manner.
Whitmore added in an aside about the Richardson investigation that "the sheriff has long supported the family's quest to get answers surrounding the tragic death of their daughter, Mitrice, [and] the sheriff will continue to do so."
The LASD written policy now in effect addresses some of the concerns raised in recent months by the members of the Malibu City Council and the municipal Public Safety Commission.
Baca indicated last Wednesday that he is in communication with Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen about the local concerns.
The City of Malibu policy recommendation that was transmitted to Baca "strongly suggests that local stations should allow detainees to be released between sunset to sunrise only when proper transportation has been secured [and] recommends that all arrestees should be permitted to retain possession of their purse, wallet and/or cell phone, rather than leaving those valuables in their vehicles, which may or may not be readily available to them upon release."
The May LASD directive addresses the latter part of the Malibu recommendation but there still appears to no policy curtailing the current 24-hour release policy from sheriff's stations.
Although representatives from Lost Hills Station were at both the council and the PSC meetings when the city recommendation was drafted, no one made specific reference to the new written policy that had been implemented three months earlier, or noted the difference between written and unwritten LASD policy.
Whitmore said Sheriff Baca has not received any information yet about the results of DNA analysis of Richardson's clothing.
Although reports are circulating that additional forensics analysis by the LASD Crime Lab has not come closer to determining the cause of her death, no official statement on this has been issued.
The Richardson support group has been told that the Baca is going to hold a public press conference and issue a plea that anyone with information related to the case, no matter how seemingly insignificant, to share it with the authorities. The date for this has not been set.
NEW OIR REPORT
Michael Gennaco, the chief attorney and head of the Office of Independent Review, the agency that addresses public concerns related to LASD malfeasance, told The News this week that the OIR report on the alleged mishandling of Richardson's remains by the sheriff's department is nearly complete. Gennaco said, "We are in the final stages but need to meet with county entities and do some final fact checking."