51 Days and counting…now after the family’s plea for videotapes showing Mitrice entering and/or exiting the sheriff’s station, of which they refused to turn over, all of a sudden there are none. WTF?
Tensions are rapidly mounting in what has become volleys of charges and accusations by family and friends of Mitrice Richardson, the 24-year-old woman who disappeared after being released without money, cell phone or means of transportation from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station at 12.25 a.m. on Sept. 17.
Richardson was placed under citizen’s arrest by the manager of Geoffrey’s restaurant after not paying an $89.51 dinner tab. When Lost Hills deputies arrived to transport her to the station for booking, they asked if they could search her car and found less than an ounce of marijuana.
She was then booked at Lost Hills on the misdemeanor counts of defrauding an innkeeper and “possession” and was released on her own recognizance. Because staff at the restaurant described Richardson’s actions as “crazy,” the family says the deputies were remiss in not ordering that she be placed on a “5150,” or medical hold, and taken to a hospital for psychological evaluation.
The intensity of family criticism has crescendoed in recent weeks with the woman’s father, Michael Richardson, blasting the sheriff’s department; the Los Angeles Police Department, the lead investigative agency; the City of Malibu; and Malibu elected officials, with a laundry list of alleged shortcomings.
This criticism, even when made to non-mainstream media, becomes instant online fodder and reverberates around the Web. Some other family members are concerned that the attacks could impede rather than help the investigation.
Simultaneously, scenarios running the gamut from “Richardson never left the sheriff’s station at all (or alive)” to the theory that her “disappearance is a carefully crafted hoax that was planned weeks in advance” whirl indiscriminately in a cacophony bordering on the frenetic. The only universal thread in the rumor mill is disbelief that someone could disappear completely.
All wings of the family of the Cal State Fullerton honors grad who planned on completing a doctorate in psychology are vocal in their determination to keep the public spotlight on the missing woman.
Gatherings in South Los Angeles and Malibu on Sunday included family members, friends and total strangers who say they have been touched by the media coverage.
In Malibu, Richardson’s mother Latice Sutton, her aunt Lauren Sutton and her college mentor clinical psychologist Ronda Hampton reiterated the family’s ongoing call for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get involved in the case.
Latice Sutton asked why when a white student disappeared in Virginia last week under comparable circumstances, the FBI was called right in. As the lead agency in the investigation, it is up to the Los Angeles Police Department to issue a request for FBI involvement. According to Detective Chuck Knolls, who is heading up the LAPD efforts, the FBI has not be involved because “there is no evidence of criminality.”
Richardson’s mother replies that “if a young woman who may be in a troubled mental state and has been missing for seven weeks is not criminality, it’s difficult to understand what is.”
Latice Sutton reiterated the allegation being made extensively in print and broadcast media that the sheriff’s department is withholding videotapes they have of Mitrice Richardson from the family.
But Capt. Tom Martin, the commander at Lost Hills, told the Malibu Surfside News this week:
“First, I can’t imagine how videotapes from the station, if they existed, would help find the missing person. The family asked for perimeter videotapes of the station that would show Mitrice leaving after being released from jail. We have no such tapes. We have cameras mounted at strategic points around the station which feed to monitors at the desk; however, they are live feed and don’t videotape.”
Martin is aware that Lost Hills is being slammed repeatedly by family members, especially Richardson’s father, and this is being picked up on blogs, talk radio and, increasingly, mainstream media.
The Lost Hills commander said, “We have reviewed our policy and procedures to ensure that we followed them appropriately in the release of Mitrice Richardson. The Office of Independent Review (OIR) has reviewed the arrest and release of Mitrice Richardson to ensure we followed policy.”
Martin added that “sheriff’s department executives have reviewed the case to ensure we followed appropriate procedures. The Board of Supervisors will be reviewing the release of Mitrice Richardson to ensure we acted appropriately.”
That review was requested by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last month, when it posted a $10,000 reward for “information leading to [Mitrice Richardson’s] whereabouts”—broader wording than allowed under City of Malibu law related to rewards.
Capt. Martin added, “My focus is and has always been finding Mitrice Richardson and bringing her home safely, in addition to ensuring that my personnel completed their jobs appropriately,” and he voiced criticism of news coverage that he said appeared to “smear” the sheriff’s department.
But the drumbeat of criticism is not expected to let up. An online activist group whose concerns include criminal justice—change.org—has posted a petition urging California officials, including the governor, the state attorney general, a cross-section of legislators, as well as the U.S. attorney general and dozens of other officials to initiate a federal investigation of the Richardson case.
At press time, there were 1602 signatures toward a goal of 5000 to urge the Feds to “help find Richardson” and “to ensure that this does not happen to additional persons.” The petition is at the group’s website: www.change.org
Yet another push of family members and friends includes increased outreach to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community in Los Angeles.
Richardson is openly gay and concern has been voiced that this, in addition to race and gender, are possible components in her alleged negligent treatment and the tenor of the law enforcement investigation.
Richardson’s partner of two years, Tessa Moon, also a CSF graduate, is now embarked on a major media blitz, issuing appeals for assistance in helping to find the missing woman.
Information about Richardson can be directed to www.bringmitricehome.org or to LAPD Detective Chuck Knolls at 213-485-2531.