The office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris says it will look into the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's handling of the Mitrice Richardson case.
The 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton grad went missing on Sept. 17, 2009, after she was released in the middle of the night, with no ride, no phone and no cash, from the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff's station. Nearly one year later, her remains were found in a remote Malibu canyon. Her family sued the department, and the county settled in 2011.
The department never conducted an internal investigation, though it did do an inquiry. The Office of Independent Review, which oversees internal inquiries, forwarded a report to the sheriff's boss, the voter-installed Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. No fault was found with the officers involved.
Former Sheriff Lee Baca, who resigned as a federal investigation clouded his department, and who last week pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as it investigated abuse inside his jails, has said that “all applicable laws, policies and procedures were followed” when it came to Richardson's case.
A few months ago the Attorney General's office said no to her family's request for an investigation. But the office apparently reversed course recently and told her father, Michael Richardson, in a letter that it will “review the conduct of law enforcement in regards to your daughter.”
Harris' press office had no comment, but it did forward us the letter.
It's not clear why the A.G.'s office had a change of heart.
A 2011 Los Angeles Magazine article by journalist Mike Kessler apparently found more pertinent information on the case than was in the county's own Office of Independent Review report.
It obtained, for example, an email between Lt. Scott Chew and Malibu Capt. Thomas Martin. Chew described Richardson as “a little ditsy”and “acting unusual” the day she was jailed.
A deputy, Chew said, “was uneasy about letting her go.”
Richardson was arrested for allegedly trying to skip out on a bill at Malibu restaurant Geoffrey's. Responding deputies said they found marijuana in her car. She was arrested on suspicion of defrauding an innkeeper and possession of cannabis.
Workers at the restaurant were torn about backing off their complaint: They ultimately moved forward out of concern for Richardson's safety. Los Angeles Police Department detectives, which investigated Richardson's missing person's case because she's from L.A., believed she was sleep-deprived and bipolar.
Workers at Geoffrey's thought she was acting bizarrely. She told the manager she was from Mars. “She sounds really crazy,” a caller told authorities that day.
But not long after midnight following her daytime arrest, Richardson was let out of jail with no cash, no phone (it was in her car) and nowhere to go.
A neighbor apparently spotted Richardson near his canyon property and called deputies, who combed the area without finding her.
Her mother, Latice, called deputies the day her daughter was released and asked how soon she could file a missing person's report. “Normally I wouldn’t recommend doing one that soon,” a deputy told her, according to Los Angeles Magazine's account.
In August, nearly a year later, Richardson's body was found by authorities checking out an illicit marijuana grow in a remote area called Dark Canyon.