LETTER FROM MITRICE RICHARDSON’S FATHER TO CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS TRIGGERS UNEXPECTED RESPONSE
Six years after Mitrice Richardson’s body was found in Malibu, the California Attorney General’s Office announced it would conduct a criminal investigation into the way the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department handled Mitrice’s case. The decision came just three months after the AG’s Office denied a request to look into the case in November.
Many people are asking what caused the AG’s Office to reverse its decision.
For those unfamiliar with the backstory, in September 2009, an employee at a Malibu restaurant called the sheriff’s department after Mitrice was unable to pay an $89 dinner tab. Mitrice appeared to be in the middle of a mental health crisis, and was talking about Mars and acting bizarrely. Arresting deputies found Mitrice to be sober, and took her to the LASD’s Lost Hills Station.
Instead of holding Mitrice based on her questionable mental state, the 24-year-old woman was freed in the middle of the night at the Lost Hills Station on Agoura Road, 40 miles away from her home in South LA without her purse, identification, wallet, or cell phone—all of which had been towed away with her car. Officers told her mother, Latice Sutton, that they would not let Mitrice out until the morning, but when Latice called the station in the early morning hours before heading out to Malibu, her daughter had already been released.
The next time Latice phoned the station, she asked how long she had to wait to report Mitrice—who had neither shown up nor called—as missing. Latice said she was concerned about Mitrice’s safety because she believed her daughter to be highly depressed. The officer Latice spoke with told her call back if her daughter was still missing after a few more hours, saying once more time had expired, “maybe we can do something for you.”
An hour later, around 6:30a.m., a Monte Nido resident called the Lost Hills station to report that he had encountered a slender black woman sitting on the back steps of his house. When he asked if she was okay, the woman told him she was just resting. Deputies went out to the house, but Mitrice was gone. It took more than six hours beyond that sighting for the station to issue a “be on the lookout” alert. The sheriff’s department did not launch a formal search for two days after Mitrice was sent out into the night.
Nearly a year later—and one month after the LA County Office of Independent Review found deputies’ midnight release of Mitrice to be within policy—park rangers searching the Santa Monica Mountains for a marijuana farm found Mitrice’s naked remains, just two miles from the Monte Nido home where she was last seen, far from any established trail. Her bra, jeans, and other clothing items were scattered 100 or more yards away from her body. Her underwear, shoes, socks, and shirts were never found. There were other strange things about Mitrice’s remains: her body and clothing were not as decomposed as would be expected for having been exposed to the elements for 11 months, her femur had been detached from her soft tissue and found uphill, and her arm was in a gravity-defying position, as if her body had mummified in a different environment.
Instead of bringing in the LA County Coroner that day, department members removed Mitrice’s remains via helicopter, allegedly against orders from the coroner. The deputies did not collect soil samples, and left neck bones and other bits of Mitrice behind. When Latice trekked into the remote area of Malibu Canyon where her daughter was found, Latice reportedly found Mitrice’s finger.
In November 2015, Mitrice’s mentor, Dr. Ronda Hampton submitted a 500-page complaint to the AG’s Office requesting a review of the case. The AG’s Office responded with a letter denying the request. “Your inquiry has been given a careful evaluation by attorney staff who have determined that no formal action is warranted by this office,” said the letter. “The records you provided do not create a reasonable inference that the actions of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department or its employees violated the law.”
It’s yet unclear what caused Harris’ office to change its tune and pick up the Mitrice Richardson case.
In December, Mitrice’s father, Michael Richardson sent Attorney General Kamala Harris a letter that was very personal and compelling in tone.
In the letter, Richardson alleges former Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Captain Tom Martin concealed evidence by hiding camera footage of the night Mitrice was in custody and telling the Richardson family the cameras were not in operation the night Mitrice was arrested. “Captain Martin later confessed to the Malibu Surfside news paper and Editor, Anne Soble that he lied about this information,” wrote Richardson. “Several months after he finally provided the tape to the family it was severely altered and tampered with.”
Richardson said department members violated the same law—Penal Code 135 PC—when they moved his daughter’s remains despite an order to “not touch anything,” from the County Coroner.
“Due to the haste and the manner in which the untrained Sheriffs carried this out, when Mitrice mother was allowed to visit the site where Mitrice was found, she continued to find parts of Mitrice remains like fingers and such,” Richardson said. “This action literally destroyed and killed the investigation.”
Richardson pleaded with AG Harris, appealing to the fact that Harris is a woman of color in an elected position of power.
“You see Ms. Harris; I look at you and I see Mitrice Richardson,” the young woman’s father said in his letter. “A young intelligent, smart, black, and beautiful young lady who busted her butt in school to one day become someone who could be helpful and make a difference in people lives.”
Senior Assistant Attorney General Lance Winters responded to Richardson’s letter on January 29, notifying the father that the AG’s Office had decided to look into the LASD’s handling of the case, but did not elaborate further. Ten days later, US Attorney Eileen Decker announced that former LASD Sheriff Lee Baca would plead guilty to a felony, a deal that had been in the works for weeks.
When WitnessLA requested an explanation for the decision reversal, a representative from the AG’s Office told us, “We can’t comment on an ongoing review.”