It’s a mysterious death that has remained unsolved for more than a dozen years.
Mitrice Richardson disappeared on the night of September 17, 2009. The 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate was released from jail at the Malibu-Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station around midnight. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. She had no money, no purse, no cell phone, no car – and no way to get home.
The case has sparked protests, questions about police tactics and fear from family and friends.
This week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors increased its reward for Richardson’s disappearance to $20,000. Officials hope the reward will lead to the arrest and sentencing of those responsible for her “suspicious disappearance and heinous death.”
Here is a review of the case.
The vanishing point
On September 16, 2009, Mitrice left work at a freight company in Sante Fe Springs early. Her colleagues described her as excited. Next she stopped at an aunt’s house in Inglewood. Her aunt wasn’t at home. So she left several business cards on the porch and a note to her uncle that read, “Who’s Queen Now, Mississippi?”
Later that night, she bought a $65 Kobe steak and an Ocean Breeze cocktail at Geoffrey’s, a Malibu restaurant. Eventually, she happened to join a larger party at another table. Guests later described her as mentally unbalanced.
Richardson was unable to pay for their $89 dinners, authorities said. But it was her behavior, the staff later said, that prompted her to call the sheriff’s deputies. At the restaurant the staff said she was talking strange and said she was from Mars.
A fateful call
As a deputy drove her to the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station, her mother Latice Sutton, learning of the arrest, called the station. She told an MP that she would pick her up that night if they planned to release her.
“I hate waking up to a morning report from a girl who got lost somewhere with her head cut off,” said a recording of the conversation as she told the deputy.
This deputy never informed the watch commander of the call and that, according to records, her mother had offered to pick her up.
The deputy who arrested Richardson did not document their strange behavior in a police report. A prison guard later said in an affidavit that she was not aware of any mental health problems. But video of the prison cell area showed Richardson strangely tugging at the steel bars of the cell just before her release.
Employees at the restaurant later revealed that sheriff’s officers tried to get them to sign statements omitting the information about Richardson’s bizarre behavior.
Released with nothing
While the arresting deputy omitted the details of her strange behavior from his incident report, his supervisor revealed in an internal email to the then-captain that the deputy elected to arrest her for this behavior. At around 12:15 a.m. at the train station, a prison guard told Richardson she could voluntarily stay until morning, but she chose to leave. She signed a promise to return to the Malibu courthouse on November 16, 2009, and was then released without her wallet or cell phone, which were in her car. The car was confiscated after her arrest.
Detectives later found evidence in Richardson’s journals and text messages that she suffered from bipolar disorder and may have been awake for up to five nights when she was having what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. Her parents say she should have been taken to a psychiatric hospital.
Grainy video shows Richardson slipping out of a side door and it’s officially the last she’s been seen. She wore a Vans shirt, jeans, brown hat, pink belt and sneakers.
A couple in Monte Nido reported a stray cat in their backyard that night. In a call to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, one of the homeowners described the dodger as “a tall, slender black woman with Afro hair, very thin.” Investigators were convinced that Richardson had somehow migrated from the station on Agoura Road via Malibu Canyon and Piuma streets to Cold Canyon Road in Monte Nido.
Their vans were followed near the house heading east on Cold Canyon Road. She may also have been spotted near Malibu Canyon and Piuma roads in the morning.
A grim discovery
Months of searching turned up no trace of Richardson. Investigators from both the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department were investigating a sighting in Las Vegas. Then, on August 9, 2010, state park rangers uncovered mummified human skeletal remains in a remote part of Dark Canyon. The skull and spine were detached.
It was about 2 1/2 miles from the Monte Nido sighting.
In December 2010, Latice Sutton placed sunflowers, her daughter’s favorites, on the ground where Richardson’s remains were found. Supporters played some of Aretha Franklin’s music.
But efforts to get closure took a turn for the worse when Sutton found something yellowish in the dirt. It turned out to be a finger bone that belonged to her daughter.
Richardson’s disappearance prompted an outcry from her relatives and others at the actions of the sheriff’s deputies in handling her arrest and late night release.
The then-county Bureau of Independent Verification concluded in a report that the Malibu-Lost Hills station deputies acted appropriately on the night Richardson was released and gave her the opportunity to stay on voluntarily. “They had no legal justification,” the report said, “to deprive them of their liberty.”
A sheriff’s investigation into Richardson’s death remains open. The manner of death was never determined by the Los Angeles County Coroner. Sheriff’s detectives have insisted over the years that they have no evidence of foul play. Her family and friends have repeatedly denied this.
Richardson’s friends and family have long accused the sheriff’s department of a cover-up. In 2011 the family a $900,000 settlement with the district.
changes in politics
Sheriff Alex Villaneuva met with Richardson family and friends after taking office in 2019. Villanueva said the department changed its procedures since Richardson’s disappearance, when Lee Baca was sheriff.
The department is not waiting to take missing adult reports now. And it ensures people are given back their phones and personal belongings before they are released from prison.
What went wrong in the Richardson case? (2010)
Search Ends Tragically (2010)
Unanswered Questions Haunt the Case (2012)
Attorney General’s Inquiry into the Falling (2017)
Release of Richardson Misguided (2019)
New hopes in the Richardson case? (2019)
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-17/mitrice-richardson-l-a-county-supervisors-increase-reward-in-mysterious-2009-death New reward in the mysterious death of Mitrice Richardson