LOS ANGELES (AP) – Mitrice Richardson was arrested for walking out on an $86 restaurant tab and vanished after being released from a remote sheriff’s station in the middle of the night with no car, no phone and no money. What happened after that remains a mystery.
Searches for the 24-year-old mentally ill woman turned up nothing for nearly a year until her skeleton was found in a Malibu ravine in 2010.
Now, after two independent reviews, a $900,000 settlement to her parents and a Sheriff’s Department investigation that has lingered for more than two years, Richardson’s family is no closer to finding out how she died.
The latest report, released Wednesday by a civilian oversight group, provided little comfort.
It cited a lack of coordination between sheriff’s investigators and coroner’s officials in handling Richardson’s remains.
Michael Richardson said more effort has been put into determining how the Sheriff’s Department handled his daughter’s case than in trying to find out the circumstances of her death. He believes his daughter was murdered, possibly by one or more sheriff’s deputies who sexually assaulted her.
“I want these people before a grand jury,” said Richardson, who offered no evidence to back up his claim. “You can’t answer one simple question: What happened to Mitrice Richardson that night?”
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said there is no evidence to back up the allegation about possible involvement by deputies.
“We categorically deny that,” Whitmore said.
Investigators have maintained there were no signs of foul play, and the cause of death has remained undetermined.
The investigation into Richardson’s death remains open and detectives are still asking the public for information. The county reached a $900,000 settlement with Richardson’s mother and father last year.
Deputies released her from custody after determining she wasn’t drunk, badly disabled or a danger to herself or others. However, her money, purse and cellphone were in her vehicle that was impounded when she was arrested.
A report later released by the county’s Office of Independent Review said Richardson told deputies she didn’t have any mental health issues _ even though she had bipolar disorder. She declined to remain jailed until daybreak and didn’t use telephones in the sheriff’s station, said the report, which concluded deputies followed policy and acted properly.
The last known sighting of Richardson was by a resident more than six hours after she was released in an area near the site where her remains were later found. Richardson was seen sleeping on the steps of the resident’s home and ran away when she was startled.
Wednesday’s report, released by the same office, addressed coroner’s office criticisms of the Sheriff’s Department, saying the remains were moved before they could be examined by forensics experts.
The report pointed out that the coroner’s office gave initial approval to remove some of the remains.
“The fact that there is still a factual dispute about this issue today only emphasizes in our view the need in future cases to improve communication and documentation,” between the two departments, said the office’s chief attorney Michael Gennaco.
The Richardson case has led to policy changes within the Sheriff’s Department, including bringing along the personal items of those arrested, when it’s possible.
The Richardson family remains resolute in learning what happened. Her parents exhumed her body last year and hired a private pathologist to investigate.
“People ask me on a daily basis how do you move on?” Michael Richardson said. “I say, `It’s carry on.’ You carry on just enough to do what you have to do. I will never rest.”
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