Mitrice! Now the Real Investigation Begins

 Mitrice! Now the Real Investigation Begins

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Now that the skeletal remains have been identified as Mitrice Richardson's; her father, Michael Richardson has filed a lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles; and the County's Office of Independent Review has released a 60-page report to the Board of Supervisors regarding the arrest, release and subsequent disappearance of Mitrice Lavon Richardson. This report appeared to have been completed before Mitrice's body was identified, since it is dated July 9, and the body was found and identified around August 12.

The Incident

Mitrice Richardson went missing on September 17, 2009 after being released into a remote area by the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff's department without her wallet, cell phone, or any means of transportation. What triggered her arrest was not being able to pay an $89 dinner tab at a Malibu restaurant. The circumstances of her release sparked widespread criticism of Sheriff's Department personnel and triggered the two lawsuits accusing the department of negligence.

During that time, law enforcement agencies and the media were accused of devoting less attention to minorities who go missing than to pretty white women who disappear. Mitrice was a very attractive Black woman, and a former beauty pageant contestant, who sources say got a lot of high-profile coverage in People magazine last fall with several other missing persons.

Law enforcement mounted numerous extensive searches covering a total of 40 square miles of Malibu Canyon - one by unmanned drones - while investigators from the L.A. Police Department spent months tracking clues and were eventually joined by L.A. Sheriff's Department detectives. The County Board of Supervisors authorized a reward for information leading to her whereabouts and there were several sightings that came to naught.

Then the body was found almost 11 months later and was identified by the Coroner's office.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters who has been following the case said, "I am deeply saddened to learn that the remains recovered in Malibu Canyon belonged to Mitrice Richardson, a young woman who had been missing for nearly a year. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with her mother Latice Sutton, remaining family, and friends, as they finally have the opportunity to grieve the loss of their beloved Mitrice. I also want to commend the numerous volunteers who remained steadfast and committed to learning the facts surrounding Mitrice's disappearance on September 17, 2009."

The Lawsuits

Both parents - Latice Sutton (mother) and Michael Richardson (father) - filed separate lawsuits based on civil rights violations and negligence even before the body was found.

Sutton filed her lawsuit after she had been allowed to watch a sheriff's department videotape of her daughter that showed her daughter acting strangely in the holding cell. Her lawsuit seeked damages and contended that Mitrice exhibited signs of mental instability while in custody - grabbing the walls of the holding cell, pulling her hair - yet officials released her late at night in a remote area without the basic tools to get by - a wallet and a cellphone. The suit also contended that the sheriff's department should have held her for a mental health evaluation because she was probably suffering from severe bipolar disorder. Her attorney is Leo Terrell.

After spending enormous amounts of time searching for his daughter, Michael Richardson filed his lawsuit asking specifically for damages caused by emotional distress, as well as for loss of earnings and medical expenses. His attorney, Benjamin Schonbrun, filed an action for six causes of action and has demanded a jury trial. He said that his client's biggest loss "is the big gaping hole in his heart from missing his daughter...I just want to make sure that people understand this lawsuit was not filed for his own monetary gain...This lawsuit is about seeking the truth, obtaining information the sheriff has not provided."

Both attorneys claim that their suite would include videotapes, audiotapes, witness statements and internal reports.

The sheriff's department however have continued to stand by their previous statements that their personnel handled the Richardson arrest correctly and never saw evidence that she was mentally altered. The spokesman, Steve Whitmore said, "We have been forthcoming about what did occur and didn't occur and we look forward to telling the whole story. The sheriff feels transparency is much more than a buzzword...He has met with the family, he has cooperated with the LAPD by assigning homicide investigators to help."

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who had spearheaded the effort to offer a reward before the body was located said after the identification was confirmed, "Today's confirmation by Sheriff Lee Baca that the remains of the body found this week in Malibu are those of Mitrice Richardson is a terrible tragedy for the family and the community at large. My deepest sympathy goes to Ms. Richardson's family. Sheriff Baca's statement today that he is committed to reviewing his department's handling of Ms. Richardson's arrest and detention is not only appropriate, but necessary. I look forward to receiving the results of his investigation. The County'sOffice of Independent Review has also probed the Sheriff Department's handling of this matter and I look forward to the results of that investigation being made available to the public."

Office of Independent Review

According to the chief attorney, Michael Gennaco and the deputy chief, Benjamin Jones, the report offers a factual summary of critical events and its analysis and conclusions regarding the appropriateness of the (Sheriff) Department's conduct.

Sheriff Lee Baca has already publicly stated that his officers acted properly but maybe could have done some things differently. In one section of the report the bartender claimed that 'a customer (Mitrice) ... was "sounding crazy" and possibly on drugs ...' In another section, the report stated, 'In the trunk of Ms. Richardson's car, deputies observed full gallons of vodka, a half-bottle of tequila, and a half-case of beer.' She may not only have been high but somewhat intoxicated. And that may lend some validity to Sutton's lawsuit.

Some years ago, Friends Outside, an statewide organization, through one of its local offices, complained to Sybil Brand Institution, a Sheriff's facility for women, that they were releasing women at 12:01 a.m. on their release dates without transportation or a way to their destinations, and that it was a hazardous undertaking. Working with the sheriff's department, it stopped. Women were only released at that time if they had proper transportation to take them away from the facility.

Apparently, it was not incorporated county-wide. Had that policy been in place, Mitice Richardson might still be alive.