• Plays Tapes on Air and Urges Public to Call Lost Hills Station and Restaurant to Complain
BY ANNE SOBLE
At a press conference last week on the steps of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Headquarters downtown and a subsequent four-hour radio broadcast, the Los Angeles civil rights attorney hired by the family of missing Mitrice Richardson said the woman and her family were “failed” by the agency charged with protecting her once she was taken into custody
The 24-year-old Richardson, an honors college graduate preparing to begin teaching and advanced studies, disappeared mysteriously after being released alone and on foot with no money from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station about 1:25 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17.
“There’s a reason it’s called Lost Hills,” attorney and radio personality Leo Terrell said, describing the isolated industrial park area that the young woman was escorted out into from the side gate of the station and has not been heard from since.
Richardson had been booked and released from Lost Hills after being placed under citizens arrest by personnel at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu over an unpaid dinner bill of $89.51.
According to the tape of a telephone call made from Geoffrey’s that was obtained by Terrell, a woman tells Lost Hills that “a guest is refusing to pay her [bill], she sounds real crazy..like she’s on drugs....or something... come by and pick her up.”
The attorney and family members confirmed reports that when Richardson was at the restaurant, she was speaking gibberish to staff and patrons. She reportedly told people she was from Mars and was avenging Michael Jackson’s death.
The young woman’s mother, Latice Sutton, speaking at the two events, said, “My daughter was in a crisis state...she was calling out for help...” Sutton said Richardson’s recent change of appearance and peculiar behavior indicate possible mental issues that were allegedly ignored by responding deputies.
Terrell said the “clue in the phone call should have been the word crazy,” and instead of being taken to a jail cell, he said Richardson should have been written up as a “5150,” an involuntary psychiatric hold, and taken to a medical facility for observation.
During the radio broadcast, the attorney ripped into the restaurant‘s handling of the situation, especially Geoffrey’s refusal to allow Richardson’s great-grandmother to pay the tab over the telephone with a credit card, preferring to press a charge of defrauding an innkeeper.
Terrell told the program’s listeners, “Don’t go to Geoffrey’s any more.” He urged people to call the restaurant and voice their disapproval, which a check with the establishment indicated was indeed happening throughout the evening.
A staffer told the Malibu Surfside News that Geoffrey’s received “quite a few calls... many of which were angry...and verbally abusive.”
Terrell saved the brunt of his criticism for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and, to a lesser degree, the City of Los Angeles Police Department, saying, “There’s no question in my mind that there’s a tremendous cover-up going on here.”
He slammed sheriff’s deputies with open-ended charges of indifference, incompetence and misrepresentation, alleging that “records are falsified” to avoid responsibility for the role these “major players” had in the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson.
He hammered away at an LASD supplemental report that he describes as having questionable content that might have been contrived after the fact or to suit changed circumstances.
For its part, the LAPD, Terrell said, isn’t doing enough to find Richardson and still hasn’t traced her last phone calls yet. He chidingly asks, “Are [they] protecting the sheriff’s department?”
The attorney said he—and the media as well—encountered stonewalling in efforts to obtain copies of reports, tape transcripts and other materials from the sheriff’s department.
Terrell said that it wasn’t until Sheriff Leroy Baca intervened that the attorney was able to get copies of reports and copies of tapes of telephone calls related to the case. He said, “We had to fight to get these tapes.”
The attorney played the tapes several times during the four-hour broadcast last Thursday that was devoted to Richardson’s disappearance, repeatedly noting that the deputies were either being “ignorant...misinformed...or just not doing their job.”
Richardson’s mother has acknowledged that she should have headed directly to the Lost Hills Station when she was contacted by the great-grandmother, instead of thinking that she was being kept informed of what was happening with her daughter by making frequent telephone calls to the station.
The tapes of calls made by Sutton to Lost Hills are interpreted by Terrell to show the disconnect between the deputies and an increasingly concerned mother. The deputies, given the relative calm of Lost Hills compared to a bustling city station, appear unaware of what is going on at the facility and seem unwilling to exert themselves to get answers to the mother’s questions.
The first serious miscommunication was when a deputy assured Sutton, “You don’t have to worry about [your daughter’s] safety.” He told her that someone will “call you as soon as she comes in here.” No one ever phoned her.
Sutton then called again and was told that, after booking, Richardson might “be released in the morning,” but she didn’t know that morning might mean sometime after midnight.
Richardson was released on a cold night with no jacket, no money, and no form of transportation, in an area that was dark and desolate.
During the mother’s next call to Lost Hills, she learns that her daughter had been released several hours earlier, and she is worried. She asks about filing a missing person report, and is told it’s too soon to do so, which Terrell called a “classic example of negligence and stupidity” in that the deputy didn’t know the “proper procedures on this...and [he] should be fired.”
The deputy told Sutton that Richardson might have caught a nearby bus even though MTA Bus 161, which serves the surrounding area, does not run between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Still he intones, “I don’t suspect that anything—ummmm—bad happened.”
Later that morning, around 6:30 a.m., a “prowler-in-a-backyard” call came in from an address in nearby Calabasas and the deputy that took that doesn’t come off much better. He sounds indifferent to a report of a woman matching Richardson’s description wandering about, although one might think that the deputies at the station would have been aware by that time that her whereabouts were unknown because of the mother’s concern. Terrell said no one followed up on this call for several hours.
Despite the barrage of criticism of the authorities, Terrell expressed appreciation to the residents of Malibu. Terrell said, “The people of Malibu, you’ve been outstanding, keep pressure on the [the authorities] to find Mitrice... People who were at Geoffrey’s, step forward and share what your remember.”
Anyone with information can go to www.findmatrice. info, or contact the attorney at 323-655-6909. There is a $10,000 reward for information leading to her location.
Meanwhile, field searches continue regularly on a random basis as concern mounts. The Santa Monica Mountains have swallowed up whole vehicles, and it has been several years before they were found.
Mitrice Richardson was a lone woman on foot at night in an area where she might be vulnerable to two-and four-footed predators.
No one seems to know where she is, and, as each day passes by, many wonder if they ever will.