FIVE YEARS AFTER HER REMAINS WERE FOUND, FRIENDS AND ADVOCATES SAY MITRICE RICHARDSON’S DEATH SHOULD BE DECLARED A HOMICIDE
It has been more than five years since park rangers found the remains of 24-year old Mitrice Richardson in a rugged area of the Malibu hills, but her friends and family cannot bring themselves to let the matter fade away unresolved.
Even journalists who have reported on Richardson’s case tend to be haunted by her story. For instance, Mike Kessler, who wrote what, to date is the most definitive account of her disappearance with his nearly 10,000 word award-garnering longread for LA Magazine, feels there should be more effort made to find out what really happened to the beautiful, bright, well-liked girl who was arrested after what appeared to be a mental health crisis, then released, far from home, into the night.
Now there is a documentary on Richardson called “Lost Compassion,” which will screen on Dec. 3, on the opening night of the 16th International Malibu Film Festival. (The film, directed by Chip Croft, will show for free at 7 p.m. Thursday night at the Regal Cinemas Malibu Twin, 3822 Cross Creek Road, Malibu.)
To remind you, on August 9, 2010, Richardson’s naked corpse and pieces of her clothing (her bra and jeans and other clothing items scattered 100 or more yards away) were discovered by park rangers purely by accident, in an out-of-the-way area of the Santa Monica Mountains known as Dark Canyon. The rangers were checking out a marijuana farm they believed was a grow run by some Mexican drug cartel or other when they spotted Richardson’s skull.
The discovery occurred a year after Mitrice disappeared following her extremely controversial release, in the middle of the night, from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Malibu/Lost Hill’s station without her cell phone, her purse, or her car, 40 miles from home, and against the clearly stated wishes of her worried mother, who told deputies she would come to pick up her daughter in the morning.
Richardson had no other practical form of transportation and had no way of calling friends to pick her up. After she walked away from the station and into the darkness, except for a possible sighting outside a former news reporter’s home, she seemed to vanish.
Ronda Hampton, a clinical psychologist and family friend, is one of those who has been pushing for Richardson’s death to be investigated as a homicide, noting that to believe that a disoriented Mitrice, a city girl, would bushwhack deep into the hills alone, far from any official trail, then take off all her clothes and her shoes and scatter them in a multi-hundred-yard radius, is unlikely in the extreme. Plus there was the matter that her body was not as decomposed as some experts said it should have been, given the time that had passed since she left the sheriff’s station.
With the screening of the new film, Susan Abram writes for the Daily News about the many troubling questions that still surround the disappearance and death of Mitrice Richardson, and the reportedly bizarrely shoddy investigation that followed the discovery of her body.
Here’s a clip:
On Sept. 16, 2009, Mitrice Richardson dined at Geoffrey’s restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway, then was briefly detained by deputies for not paying her bill. A few hours later, before her mother, Latice Sutton, could come and pick her up, Richardson was released just after midnight by deputies from the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff’s station. Her car, which included her purse and cellphone, had been impounded. She had no transportation as she headed out into the darkness of Agoura Road.
Except for a brief appearance on the front lawn of a nearby residence, Richardson was never seen or heard from again. Search parties formed. Family and friends became worried. Questions arose: Why didn’t deputies hold Richardson longer for a mental health evaluation, especially after they were told at the restaurant that she had made several irrational remarks, and she was found to be sober? How could they let a young woman walk alone into the night?
During one of the searches, volunteers found a freshly painted mural along a culvert wall in Malibu Canyon. It depicted a nude African-American woman in various graphic scenes. Was it a clue? Did the painter know what happened to Mitrice? Hampton said investigators told her it was unrelated. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Department met with criticism and anger.
Eleven months after she disappeared, Richardson’s remains were discovered about seven miles from the station. Park rangers who were patrolling the area to check for illegal marijuana farms found her near a creek bed where few traveled. Deputies arrived and removed the bones, to the dismay of Los Angeles County Coroner’s officials, who were on their way to the scene.
Again, questions arose: Did someone pick her up as she walked the dark roads, kill her and dump her body in the canyon? Were deputies indirectly involved since they released her? Why did they remove her remains before coroner’s officials arrived?
“The Sheriff’s Department moved her remains without our permission,” Ed Winter, Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner, said last week. “I don’t think we’ll ever know what happened to her unless someone comes forward with additional information.”
Former Sheriff Lee Baca told reporters he believed his officers followed procedures and that deputies had asked her to stay in jail until her mother arrived, but Richardson refused. The Office of Independent Review, which oversees the Sheriff’s Department, agreed with him. In the meantime, Richardson’s parents, who are not married to each other, filed separate wrongful death suits and in 2011 were awarded $450,000 each by Los Angeles County.
But Hampton pressed on. She and the family pushed for the department to conduct an internal investigation of the deputies. A request was made for the FBI to look into the department. A spokeswoman said last week that the case did not fall in federal jurisdiction. In October, Hampton sent nearly 500 pages of documents and reports about the case to Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office hoping she would find cause for criminal action against the department.
Harris spokeswoman Kristen Ford said this month the documents were received and reviewed but no action will be taken.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF THE LASD—A DEPUTY IS ACCUSED OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT WITH MULTIPLE FEMALE JAIL INMATES
Allegations surfaced over the weekend that a Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy assigned to LA’s downtown criminal courthouse engaged in sexual misconduct with a number female prisoners, including forcing one inmate to orally copulate with him. Although the District Attorney’s office has, thus far, reportedly declined to prosecute the deputy, due to the unwillingness of several of the women involved to cooperate, the LASD has launched an internal affairs probe into the deputy’s alleged wrongdoing.
The LA Times’ James Quelly broke the story. Here’s a clip:
The allegations were disturbing: A female inmate reported that a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy asked her to perform a sex act as he escorted her back to a cell in the downtown criminal courthouse. She complied, she said, because she was afraid the deputy might otherwise get her into trouble.
In the following months, investigators tracked down several other female inmates who gave similar accounts of sexual misconduct by the deputy, according to a district attorney’s memo detailing the allegations.
The deputy, identified in the memo as Hermann Kreimann Jr., is the subject of an internal affairs investigation that could result in his firing, according to sheriff’s Cmdr. Keith Swensson, a department spokesman. Although he declined to comment on the specific allegations, Swensson said male deputies are never supposed to be alone with female inmates in areas without security cameras.
“It’s out of policy for a reason, specifically to prevent things like this from happening,” Swensson said. “We would not allow female inmates to go with male deputies by themselves. … You just don’t do that.”
The sexual misconduct allegations are the latest to hit the Sheriff’s Department. Earlier this month, the county agreed to a $6.15 million legal settlement with a woman who was raped by an on-duty deputy during a 2010 traffic stop in Palmdale. The deputy is serving a nine-year prison sentence for rape while under the color of authority and soliciting a bribe.