Mitrice Richardson

Mitrice Richardson was the daughter of Latice Sutton and Michael Richardson. She was raised by her mother and stepfather Larry Sutton in Covina, California.

Richardson obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology in 2008 from California State University, Fullerton, after graduating from South Hills High School in West Covina, California.

Richardson was an open lesbian, and at the time of her death, had been dating girlfriend Tessa Moon for about two years. She had also competed as a beauty pageant contestant, worked as an intern for a forensic psychologist and part-time as a dancer in an LGBT strip club. 

On the evening of September 16, 2009, Richardson entered the parking lot of Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu. Due to what staff and patrons at the restaurant described as “bizarre” behavior and the fact that she was unable to pay her $89 bill, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department from the Malibu/Lost Hills Station was called to assess her condition. 

The officers on the scene purportedly administered a field sobriety test and determined that she was not intoxicated and not under the influence of any substance. She was arrested on charges of “suspicion of not paying for the meal” and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

According to the arresting officers, upon her arrest, her phone, purse and money were secured in her car and her car was towed to a tow yard on the Pacific Coast Highway. Richardson was detained and booked at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station approximately ten miles (16 km) up Malibu Canyon.

Although Richardson’s mother informed the station of concern for her daughter’s mental health, and despite promises from the station personnel that she would not be released until later in the morning, Richardson was released on September 17, 2009, at 12:28 AM with no belongings and no means of calling for assistance. Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said Richardson was released from jail because “She exhibited no signs of mental illness or intoxication. She was fine. She’s an adult.” She had been invited to wait in the lobby, but declined.

Despite being detained specifically because of her strange behavior — she’d struck up bizarre conversations with patrons and the valet — Richardson was not given a psych evaluation or held by authorities, which was an option available to the watch commander.

Several hours later, at 6:30 AM, she was seen in the backyard of former KTLA news anchor Bill Smith in Monte Nido. When Smith opened his window and asked if she was OK, Richardson told Smith that she was “resting.”  They stated that the police were called.

On January 9, 2010, four months after she was reported missing, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department conducted one of the largest-scale searches in the history of the department. Over 300 volunteers trained in search and rescue operations participated in the 18-square-mile (47 km²) search in the area of Malibu Canyon. The search included both air and ground searches of creeks, trails, and ridges. Richardson was not found during this search.

Maurice Dubois, father of slain Escondido, California, teen Amber Dubois, assisted Richardson’s family in a two-day search on June 5 and 6, 2010, in the Monte Nido area of Malibu Canyon. Over 100 private-citizen volunteers participated in the search of the area. Although Richardson’s remains were not discovered, searchers found racially and sexually offensive graffiti on the walls of a culvert in the canyon. The graffiti was freshly painted and paint cans, brushes and other potential evidence were left at the scene.

The creek bed in Malibu Canyon where Richardson’s naked mummified remains were eventually discovered is adjacent to a 21-acre (8.5 ha) ranch that is known for producing pornography. It is very secluded and has direct access to the creek bed. When her body was discovered, the detectives on the case removed her body against the order of the coroner. Though residents reportedly heard screams in that area several nights after Richardson disappeared, her death was deemed to not be a homicide; there was no foul play. Things got even stranger when the LASD, which had exclusive access to Richardson’s remains for at least six hours, moved the body without bringing the coroner in to gather evidence that could help determine the cause, time and location of her death.

Mitrice appeared on the cover of People magazine in November 2009.

Richardson’s disappearance was covered on an episode of Disappeared on the Investigation Discovery channel, entitled “Lost in the Dark”; it first aired on November 19, 2012, as the season 6 premiere.

Richardson’s family has filed several lawsuits against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for releasing her from jail even though, they claim, she was experiencing severe bipolar disorder at the time.  In 2011, her parents, who had sued separately, were awarded $450,000 each. Richardson’s girlfriend, Tessa Moon, refutes claims that Richardson had any mental illness.

Richardson’s family also asked the California Attorney General’s office to review the sheriff’s office’s handling of the case. In November 2015, after reviewing 500 pages of documents sent with the request, the office of California then-Attorney General Kamala Harris replied that it had not found any grounds for criminal charges against the sheriff or his deputies. The Attorney General’s office also found no evidence that the sheriff’s office had mishandled Richardson’s family’s complaint against it. However, in January 2016, the California Attorney General’s office reversed itself and announced it was beginning a criminal investigation of the case.

On December 30, 2016, the California Attorney General’s office concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal prosecution of anyone involved in the handling of the case.

The missteps, possible cover-ups, protocol violations, withholding of evidence, neglect, incompetence, and what appeared to be lies by personnel at the Lost Hills station and others in the department, including then-Sheriff Lee Baca and the since-dismantled Office of Independent Review, are too much to get into,

Sept 2019 is 10 years since her disappearance and death. At a private event last week, hosted by a friend of Richardson’s family, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he would “like to get to the bottom of it” and that he wants to “assess the entire case.” His statement triggered a small news flurry and speculation among those who follow Richardson’s story that it had been closed or gone cold and was now being re-opened or re-assigned.

However, through an LASD spokesperson, Sheriff Villanueva confirmed to KPCC/LAist that the case has never been closed or deemed cold.

Additionally, the sheriff said there have been no new leads or changes to the status of the case, and that it has not been reassigned within LASD. LASD has no plans to hold its own press conference or issue its own statement about the case.

Villanueva is planning to attend a memorial for Richardson on Tuesday at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. The sheriff is not scheduled to speak at the event, organized by a family friend, but has said he wants to “make sure the family is heard.”

1. WHY WASN’T RICHARDSON SENT FOR A PSYCH EVALUATION, DESPITE HER ODD BEHAVIOR?

2. WHY WAS THE UNEDITED JAIL CELL VIDEO OF RICHARDSON’S DETENTION NEVER GIVEN TO THE FAMILY OR ITS ATTORNEYS?

3. ON THE EDITED VIDEO, A DEPUTY IS SEEN LEAVING THE BUILDING SHORTLY AFTER RICHARDSON. DID THIS DEPUTY SEE OR SPEAK TO RICHARDSON AND IF SO, WHAT WAS THE NATURE OF THEIR INTERACTION?

4. WHY DID THEN-CAPT. TOM MARTIN WITHHOLD THE VIDEO FROM THE FAMILY AND CLAIM IT DIDN’T EXIST, WHEN IN FACT IT WAS IN HIS DESK DRAWER FOR SEVERAL MONTHS?

5. WHY DID A DEPUTY TELL RICHARDSON’S MOTHER THAT SHE SHOULD DELAY FILING A MISSING PERSONS REPORT DESPITE HER OBVIOUS SENSE OF WORRY? WHY DID LASD WAIT SO LONG TO ISSUE AN ALERT FOR PEOPLE TO “BE ON THE LOOKOUT” FOR RICHARDSON, NEVER MIND A PROPER SEARCH?

6. AFTER A WOMAN FITTING RICHARDSON’S DESCRIPTION IN A NEARBY RESIDENT’S YARD WAS REPORTED SIX HOURS AFTER HER RELEASE, HOW LONG DID DEPUTIES TAKE TO RESPOND?

7. WHY DID LASD KEEP THE CORONER AWAY FROM RICHARDSON’S REMAINS FOR MORE THAN SIX HOURS BEFORE REMOVING THEM?

8. WHY DID DETECTIVES CLAIM THAT RICHARDSON’S REMAINS WERE INTACT WHEN THEY PUT HER IN THE HELICOPTER?

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