Sheriff Upgrades Mitrice Richardson Case to Homicide Investigation as Agency Spokesperson Stresses that the Move Doesn’t Mean Missing Woman Is Dead
• Mother Criticizes Not Being Told of Sheriff’s Action in Advance and Interprets It to Mean that Her Daughter Is No Longer Alive
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
On Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca ordered the sheriff’s department to upgrade its efforts in the investigation into the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson to a homicide case, at the same time that department spokespersons stress that they do not believe that the young woman who has been missing for 13 weeks is dead.
Steve Whitmore, the chief media representative for the LASD, told the Malibu Surfside News that “it cannot be emphasized enough that this move is all about expanding resources, not any supposition that Richardson is dead.”
He said Baca’s action authorizes a three-member sheriff’s homicide team to concurrently work with the Los Angeles Police Department’s own homicide division team in the search for the 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton honors graduate who mysteriously vanished after reportedly walking out of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, located 40 miles from her home, without a jacket, money, cell phone or means of transportation at 12:25 a.m. on Sept. 17.
Richardson had been booked on two field citable misdemeanor counts after being placed under citizen’s arrest by staffers at Geoffrey’s restaurant for allegedly not paying her $89.51 dinner tab. Sheriff’s deputies who searched her car added a second allegation of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Bizarre speech and behavior was attributed to her by people in the restaurant, but in subsequent contact with LASD personnel, Richardson was described as lucid and personable.
Whitmore said Baca took the action on Monday after having met last week with the woman’s father Michael Richardson. Mitrice Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton, who raised her daughter and with whose grandmother the missing woman resided while working full-time and preparing to go to graduate school, was not invited to the meeting. The missing woman’s parents, who were not married and who separated when she was a child, have been directing parallel search efforts, with the mother focusing more intently on field searches.
In a prepared statement received by the Malibu Surfside News just before press time Tuesday night, Sutton said, “I find it most unfortunate that I had to learn that the sheriff’s department was opening up a homicide investigation from a newspaper report.”
Sutton asked that her written comments be used in entirety because she says she is “deeply perplexed about the handling of my daughter’s investigation, with the most perplexing issue being that all of the investigators involved are now turning their attention to the fact that there was a mental crisis. I told them that from day one.”
It was the mother and the woman’s college academic mentor, psychologist Ronda Hampton, who stressed the possibility of sudden mental illness from the beginning, even as other family members downplayed it and the sheriff department’s assessment of her coherence when she was being booked at Lost Hills was accepted as prima facie evidence of lack of mental distress.
Mitrice Richardson’s journals and other writings that were subsequently found in her impounded vehicle have since been examined by mental health professionals, and officials now think it is possible that she might have been living in her car for up to a week before the Geoffrey’s incident and lapsing in and out of bipolar illness.
Learning of the change in official attitude about Richardson’s mental state, Sutton said, “I can’t help but question the fact that if the authorities were not so dismissive of my pleas to do a foot search to find her because she’s in a mental crisis, that would have made the difference between life and death.
“Further, I am absolutely appalled that neither the LASD, nor the LAPD, would not contact me to tell me the new scope of their investigation, especially considering the fact that I filed the missing person case, not to mention that’s my baby. One would think ‘I’ would be privy to such information before releasing it to anyone, let alone the general public. In addition, how insulting to me, and the public that Sheriff Lee Baca and the LASD serve, to make such a flip statement that ‘he has declared it a homicide investigation, but that does not mean the sheriff believes Ms. Richardson is dead.’ Of course they believe she’s dead. Surely the LASD does not have such excess funds to spend on an investigation that has no merit or evidence just for the ‘heck-of-it?’”
Sutton noted that she met with the lead Los Angeles Police Department detectives on the case last Monday and they did not mention any pending LASD action.
At that time, Sutton said she provided a DNA sample for possible identification use as requested by the LAPD. The father has also been asked to provide a DNA sample. His only public comment on the request is located on his separate website where he has written, “Haven’t we learned anything from Mark Fuhrman?”
Meanwhile, Sutton continues to ask why “the FBI hasn’t been invited to assist in the search for my baby, like in the case of the Virginia woman who went missing after a concert?”
Sutton said, “I cannot express how devastated I am, and the magnitude of the loss I feel. As I reflect upon all the love, joy, and brightness my baby exuded, the milestones my baby reached, and what she was on track to accomplish, to know that because of the absence of ‘prudence, and safety,’ I am left to grieve for my baby in the most unimaginable, unsettling way. I am left with a hole in my heart, spirit, and soul that cannot be repaired, or healed.”
When asked why the mother was not included in the meeting with Sheriff Baca, Whitmore said the father was the person who had asked for the meeting and no other family members took part. He said the new LASD investigators will be contacting Sutton.
For more information about the case and ongoing field searches, contact the family website at www.findmitrice.info, Dr. Ronda Hampton at 951-660-8031, or LAPD Detectives Steven Eguchi or Chuck Knolls at their new office telephone number 213-486-6900.