Reexamination of Remains Yields No New Clues about Mitrice Richardson's Death
• LASD 'Watchdog' Panel Bans Public Access to Draft Reports on Malfeasance Allegations
BY ANNE SOBLE
The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office has completed its recent forensic reassessment and review of the exhumed remains of Mitrice Richardson. Despite extensive additional autopsy and toxicology studies, the cause of her death remains unknown.
Department of Coroner Deputy Medical Examiner Lisa Scheinin wrote in a supplemental report to the agency's 2010 report that had also reached the same conclusion, "After reexamination of the remains, no traumatic injury is identified. Therefore, while homicide is not excluded, the cause and manner of death must remain undetermined."
Assistant Chief Coroner and DOC spokesperson Ed Winter told the Malibu Surfside News this week that the ruling means, "The case is done."
Winter declined to comment about any of the specifics of the latest report, which notes that a number of the dead woman's bones were never recovered, including the hyoid bone in the neck that supports the tongue—important for the detection of strangulation or asphyxiation, the xiphoid process (lower sternum), coccyx, one rib, and a number of finger bones.
Richardson was a 24-year-old African-American honors college graduate taken into custody at Geoffrey's restaurant on Sept. 16, 2009, for allegedly being unable to pay an $89 dinner check and possessing a minimal amount of marijuana.
Patrons and restaurant staff described Richardson as disoriented and speaking gibberish. She said she was from Mars, and would become mesmerized by bright lights and moving objects on the restaurant's computer screens.
After the restaurant manager performed a citizen's arrest, the three responding deputies handcuffed Richardson and drove her to the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station. The woman'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 booked at Lost Hills and released from the station's side entrance just after midnight the next morning.
She was ostensibly alone and without a means of transportation, money, credit cards, cell phone, or adequate attire for the cold temperature in an unfamiliar and isolated area.
A subsequent professional assessment indicated that Richardson might have been experiencing a bipolar episode and could have been unable to provide for her personal safety.
The aspiring psychologist disappeared without a trace. Other than a possible sighting in Monte Nido on the morning of Sept. 17, there was no sign of Richardson for 11 months until park rangers checking on an abandoned marijuana grove not far from that lone 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 at the find site.
The county coroner's office lambasted LASD personnel for moving Richardson's remains before specially trained coroner's department investigators could examine them in place. This could constitute a violation of state law, and the coroner's report states that it compromised the DOC investigation.
When additional bones were subsequently found on two separate occasions in the same vicinity, the Richardson family outcry about carelessness and possible LASD ulterior motivation became louder.
The Office of Independent Review, the county panel that reviews allegations of law enforcement misconduct, had indicated that it would monitor the dispute between the two agencies.
Michael Gennaco, the chief attorney and head of the OIR, told The News last month that the report on the alleged mishandling of Richardson's remains by the sheriff's department is in draft form and has been sent to the agencies for review.
When asked about the report, Winter said that he could not comment on the coroner department's reaction to the report.
Gennaco will not discuss the second draft report. It is not clear whether he ever will, as he also declines to comment on the first report exonerating the LASD in Richardson's booking and release from Lost Hills. Gennaco maintains that the first report is also a draft. He refuses to regard it as a public document even though the LASD leaked it to the media.
Observers say that from a public relations perspective, it was to the sheriff's department's advantage to release the original report clearing the agency at about the same time that Richardson's remains were discovered. The timing helped divert attention from LASD insistence that Richardson was alive and did not want to be found.
LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore told The News on Tuesday that he will check into the status of the second report. The News will continue its ongoing efforts to request that OIR and the sheriff's department make copies available to the media.
It is not clear whether the fact that Los Angeles County has finalized the legal claims against it by Richardson's parents, essentially precluding additional claims, may be a factor in a decision on release.
The impact of the Richardson case on LASD operations is evident in the formalization of a department policy during the summer, requiring that an "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."
Whitmore repeatedly reiterates that Sheriff Lee Baca will continue to do whatever is possible to try "to get answers surrounding the tragic death" of Mitrice Richardson.
Members of the Richardson investigation support group say they were told in person by Baca that he plans to hold a press conference and issue a plea that anyone with information related to the case, no matter how seemingly insignificant, share it with authorities. The date for this event has not yet been scheduled.