Concern Shifts to Whether Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Violated Mitrice Richardson’s Civil Rights
Congress member Maxine Waters continues her steadfast efforts to assist the family of Mitrice Richardson, who vanished eight months ago, following an incident in a Malibu restaurant that led to her being transported to the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station for booking.
Rep. Waters is awaiting a response to a letter she wrote last week to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, requesting a federal investigation of the puzzling case.
Waters is adamant that she is deeply concerned that Richardson’s civil rights have been violated. She directed key staffers to meet with the woman’s mother, Latice Sutton, and her family support group members, including Dr. Ronda Hampton, a psychologist with whom Richardson, a Cal State Fullerton honors graduate in psychology, interned, after Waters received numerous telephone calls, emails and faxes asking her to assist their efforts to find the missing woman.
In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads the civil rights section, that was copied to Attorney General Eric Holder, Waters writes, “I am deeply concerned about the circumstances surrounding the detention and release of Mitrice Richardson…who disappeared on Sept. 17, 2009.”
The representative challenges the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s assertion that deputies didn’t know Richardson was mentally ill.
Waters says that restaurant personnel told deputies about the woman’s bizarre behavior, and there reportedly are witnesses who attest to at least one deputy acknowledging that she was “acting crazy.”
Rep. Waters continues, “People with disabilities, including mental disabilities, are a protected class in this country. It appears the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department failed to follow its own policies, which state that individuals with mental disabilities are to be released into the care of family, friends, or medical professionals.”
The Congressmember concludes “I believe that the Justice Department is the best-equipped agency to handle this investigation.”
Spokespersons for the LASD maintain that Richardson was handled properly, according to all the department rules, and that she was coherent and rational while in LASD custody.
Reiterating her concerns, Waters said, “I believe that Mitrice’s civil rights were violated when she was arrested and then let go in the middle of the night without money, a phone, or transportation. The roads of Malibu are dark and dangerous at night, and since the Los Angeles Police Department later concluded that Mitrice appeared to be suffering from bipolar disorder that evening, I believe that the circumstances surrounding her disappearance warrant a thorough federal investigation.”
Waters is giving the case this attention even though Richardson is not a resident of her Congressional district.
On Sept. 16, 2009, Geoffrey’s restaurant personnel placed a 24-year-old African-American woman, Mitrice Richardson, under private person arrest for nonpayment of an $89.51 dinner tab. A staffer telephoned Lost Hills Station directly, saying “to come pick her up.” The female caller described the woman’s behavior as “crazy.” Witnesses said Richardson told them she was from Mars and began speaking gibberish.
Several deputies took Richardson into custody and drove her to Lost Hills for booking on misdemeanor charges, which could have been handled with field citations that would have allowed her to return to her car and drive away.
A booking cage video, the existence of which was first denied by Lost Hills officials, reportedly indicates physical and mental stress. Richardson appears to be trying to curl up into a fetal position. Family members say her booking photo differs dramatically from her usual appearance. Her eyes appear vacant.
None of the LASD personnel involved in the booking process is willing (or being allowed) to speak to the media.
Richardson was released from the station shortly after midnight on Sept. 17 on foot into the dark and remote industrial area with no money or cell phone.
Her purse had been left in her car that the restaurant reportedly called the Malibu tow yard to remove from the parking lot, including documentation that the woman had several thousand dollars in the bank.
No immediate search was undertaken the first few days that Richardson was reported missing by her mother, but there have been several official agency search efforts in the weeks and months that followed, including aero-drone reconnaissance and mountain search and rescue team field checks that covered areas around the Lost Hills Station. These have not produced a single clue to her whereabouts.
Richardson’s mother, who agrees with subsequent medical assessment that her daughter was experiencing bipolar disorder onset, and her circle of relatives and friends have repeatedly expressed frustration with what they view as foot-dragging by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the City of Los Angeles Police Department—the agency formally in charge of what is still classified as a missing person case.
Ronda Hampton and Charles Croft, another support team member, have been working with Congressmember Waters’ staffers from her Washington D.C. and Los Angeles offices for several months.
Several weekends ago, one of her reps, who flew in from Washington, and another rep from her L.A. office met with Hampton and Croft in Malibu to trace Richardson’s steps.
The four also went on an extensive tour of Monte Nido where Richardson is believed to have been sighted at around dawn on the morning that she went missing and several other areas where suspicious activity has been reported.
They then drove to the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station and talked with a deputy at the front desk. Finally, the four made contact with people who had been at the restaurant on Sept. 16 who “confirmed that Mitrice was not in her right mind and one deputy [who was at the restaurant] agreed.”
After several hours of reconstructing what is known to have transpired, Hampton said Waters’ staffers were reportedly convinced that the FBI needed to become part of the investigation and that Richardson’s civil rights had been violated.
The FBI had declined earlier involvement in the case because Richardson is an adult and there is no indication of foul play, but civil rights violation allegations might be viewed differently.
Hampton told the Malibu Surfside News “that Maxine Waters’ office has stated that they have been following the case, particularly through [MSN articles], and they were waiting for something to break that would allow them some intervention. They stated that there had been nothing they could really do to push for a missing person investigation, but after [the MSN] article about the viewing of the [previously denied] video, they felt that this was an opportunity to investigate a civil rights violation.”
The close cooperation between Waters staff and the mother’s support group has reportedly angered Mitrice Richardson’s father, Michael Richardson, who interrupted Rep. Waters at a political press conference on Monday, demanding recognition that it was he who was bringing about potential DOJ involvement, not the Congressmember.
The father originally took his daughter’s missing person case to a number of media outlets, but many of these outlets are now downplaying his involvement, according to Latice Sutton, who says that they question his behavior and statements.
Mitrice Richardson’s parents never married and went their separate ways when she was very young. Sutton said that since her daughter was six, her husband Larry Sutton was Mitrice’s “de facto” father. She indicated that Michael Richardson was “out of his daughter’s life for about 10 years” and only recently began establishing contact.
Latice Sutton said that public officials tell her they do not want to work with the father, which prompted her to write Congressmember Laura Richardson (no relation), whose political aid Sutton is also trying to enlist, “I do not support Michael Richardson’s antics, views, methods, intimidation, or narcissism, and do not work with him in any way.” Laura Richardson represents the Congressional district where Mitrice Richardson was living before she disappeared.
Sutton said Michael Richardson’s “ambush” of Waters at the press conference has forced her to make her strongest statement so far about him. She told the Malibu Surfside News, “I know that when we bring Mitrice home, and she is well, she will disown his actions. Michael Richardson deserves no credit for aiding in this investigation, but he will get the credit if he destroys the federal investigation.”
NEXT SEARCH EFFORT
The mother and her family and friends are planning a large two-day search the weekend of June 5 and 6 in the greater Malibu area. Maurice Dubois, the father of murdered teenager Amber Dubois who has become a vocal missing persons advocate, will help to coordinate an effort that will involve hikers, horseback riders and trail bikers, as well as general flyer distribution throughout the region.
Anyone who was in Geoffrey’s restaurant or parking lot the evening of Sept. 16 and recalls anything, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that might be related to this case is asked to email The News at editor@malibu surfsidenews.com
Additional information about the case is available on the mother’s website at www.findmitrice.info; or by contacting Dr. Ronda Hampton at 951-660-8031.