Official Complaints Filed against LASD Personnel in Mitrice Richardson Case
• Internal Affairs Bureau Given List of Allegations Related to Woman's Disappearance and Death
BY ANNE SOBLE
Even as the head of the Office of Independent Review and the attorney who researched and wrote the second OIR report on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department handling of the Mitrice Richardson investigation express their personal dissatisfaction with its inconclusive conclusions, some LASD critics say they intend to add an alternate approach to seeking answers to the many questions that remain about the case.
Missing persons and mental health issues advocate-activist Ronda Hampton, a clinical psychologist who was Richardson's college mentor and friend, is not only taking on the watchdog agency's latest report, but has mounted an effort to reopen aspects of the first OIR report, which exonerates the LASD of wrongdoing in its treatment of Richardson before she mysteriously disappeared.
Richardson, a 24-year-old honors college graduate who was about to begin teaching and graduate work in psychology, was placed under citizens arrest at Geoffrey's restaurant the evening of Sept. 16, 2009, after noticeably bizarre public behavior and a sequence of field-citable misdemeanors. She was taken into custody and booked at Lost Hills Sheriff's Station.
Richardson, who is now thought to have been in the throes of a bipolar or other mental crisis, was released from Lost Hills just after midnight the next morning alone without her car, purse or cell phone. Other than a possible early morning sighting hours later, she was never heard from again.
Nearly 11 months later, her naked skeletal remains were discovered by State Parks rangers doing routine monitoring of the site of a former marijuana operation about seven miles from the Lost Hills station in remote Malibu Canyon backcountry. Most of the garments Richardson was wearing at the time of her release from Lost Hills were intact and scattered in the vicinity.
Sheriff Lee Baca at a series of press conferences in the interim between Richardson's disappearance and the release of last month's OIR report has maintained that the LASD handling of Richardson was by the book at all times.
However, Hampton and the advocates of what has become a justice-for-Richardson effort that seeks improved law enforcement training on how to treat individuals with mental health issues who are taken into custody and the elimination of what is seen as an anti-mentally-ill bias in law enforcement agencies do not accept this determination about LASD protocol.
Hampton praises Baca for extensive assistance in all of the advocates' efforts, but says she's concerned that he is not always given all the information on a subject.
Hampton is in the process of filing citizen complaints with the LASD Internal Affairs Bureau, which is headed by Chief Roberta Abner, against all of the parties who had direct or indirect contact with Richardson during those fateful hours before she walked out the side entrance of the Lost Hills Station into the cold darkness of the remote semi-industrial area she had never been to before.
These official complaints are expected to be tracked and reviewed by the IAB. Hampton told the Malibu Surfside News that she is also preparing to go to the Office of Ombudsman to assure that these complaints get a thorough airing.
Among the official complaints filed is one against the arresting "Deputies John McKay, Frank Brower, and Armando Loureiro for possibly not administering a field sobriety test and possibly falsifying documents regarding a field sobriety test administered to Mitrice Richardson. I allege that there is possible conflicting information contained in the depositions of the deputies regarding if there was in fact a field sobriety test administered to Mitrice Richardson and that one or all of these deputies lied about a field sobriety test for the purpose of deceiving the public about their interaction with Richardson, thus interfering with the immediate search for Richardson."
An official complaint has also been filed against their supervisor, then Station Commander Captain Tom Martin who has since been promoted to a post downtown, "for suppression of information regarding the case of Mitrice Richardson. On numerous occasions, former Captain Thomas Martin denied that a video of Richardson existed when in fact he retained, in his possession, the video of Richardson while in custody at the station. The denial of the existence of this video was made directly to the family and supporters of Richardson and to the news media. I am alleging that former Captain Thomas Martin willfully suppressed and denied knowledge of this video for the purpose of deceiving the public, as he was aware that Richardson's behavior on the video would assist in determining her mental status. As such, his suppression of this video effectively allowed the LASD spokesperson to continue to purport to the public that Richardson was not acting in an unusual manner and that her behavior was perfectly normal. Additionally, his suppression of the video allowed the LASD and LAPD to consider her a voluntarily missing adult as opposed to a critically missing adult due to her apparent mental health condition while at the Lost Hills Sheriff Station. Had she been considered a critically missing adult, immediate efforts would have been made to search for Richardson and there would have been no delay in search efforts for her. As well, the public would have been made aware that she was acting in a bizarre manner and not perfectly normal as reported by the LASD."
Viewed as a major complaint is one filed against the LHSS employee who was the last person at the station to deal with Richardson at length, jailer Sheron Cummings. The allegation is "neglecting to provide adequate care for Richardson during her period of incarceration at the Lost Hills Sheriff Station on Sept. 16 and 17 of 2009 and for violating the LASD policy of releasing an inmate when it is prudent and safe. I allege that Cummings' release of Richardson without any means of caring for herself and in the predawn hours without any means of transportation was negligent and improper. Cummings did not use common sense or good judgment in releasing Richardson. Additionally, a review of Cummings' deposition regarding her handling of Richardson while in custody should be conducted, as she allegedly made statements during her deposition that she lied to the public when she stated that she offered that Richardson could stay at the station jail until the morning hours, as well as other statements that conflicted with her initial public statements. If Cummings did make such statements as part of her deposition, I allege that she did so intentionally to deceive the pubic regarding the appropriateness of the release of Richardson based on her mental status, as well as the unsafe release of Richardson. Additionally, it is my suspicion that Cummings did not assist Richardson in making any phone calls during her incarceration at the Lost Hills station and that public statements that she made indicating that she heard Richardson speaking to a friend were possibly fabricated."
Connected to the Cummings allegations are ones against the chief LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore for "allegedly instructing Cummings to lie to the public regarding her interactions with Richardson while in custody. The deposition of Sheron Cummings should be reviewed to determine if she lied to the public at the direction of Steve Whitmore for the purpose of deceiving the public and interfering with the immediate missing persons investigation of Richardson. I allege that Steve Whitmore intentionally made false statements regarding the amount money that is paid out annually as a result of lawsuits that are brought forth regarding over-detention to justify unsafe release of Richardson."
Of interest is the complaint filed against Deputy Ismael Rodriguez, whose name is only now becoming part of the public controversy, "for not providing specific, consistent and adequate information regarding his whereabouts on the night of Sept. 16 and 17, 2009, with regards to any interaction, sighting or knowledge of the events leading to the disappearance of Richardson. As the former Captain Thomas Martin stated that no deputy was at the station when Richardson was in custody, Deputy Rodriguez needs to provide an explanation as to why he was seen leaving the station approximately two minutes after Mitrice Richardson was released."
Hampton also alleges Rodriguez "may be aware of some activity regarding Richardson and other individuals on or about the time she went missing that he deemed inappropriate and that he decided not to intervene."
Among other official complaints filed is one against Lt. Scott Chew for "not openly disclosing the contents of an email between himself and former Captain Thomas Martin regarding the arresting officers' concerns about the mental health of Mitrice Richardson. I allege that Lt. Scott Chew allowed the public, as well as the LAPD, to believe that Mitrice Richardson was not at any point acting in an unusual manner and that, in doing so, allowed her to continue to be classified as a voluntary missing adult as opposed to a critical missing adult due to her possible mental health crisis," which would warrant a report of a missing person regardless of jurisdiction.
The list of official individual personnel and agency complaints is still growing. Hampton said she intends to keep up an incessant drumbeat of requests for public scrutiny of all LASD personnel who had any contact with Richardson from when she was taken into custody at the restaurant until she was taken outside the Lost Hills station by the jailer.
Detective work to determine the cause of Richardson's death may be at a standstill, but Hampton said it is now time to investigate the investigators.