WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
1 year ago today, I listened to a My Favorite Murder episode that covered the mysterious and neglectful disappearance of Mitrice Richardson. When I searched her story to learn more, I realized the very day I listened to the podcast was the day her body was found. I thought it would be interesting to learn about events on the day they happened in history. And thus, Today Before Today was born.
I normally don't look further into the stories on My Favorite Murder, because they typically do an extremely good job at covering everything, but this story was so insane to me that I couldn't get enough. It is sad and terrible and everything about it fascinates and enrages me.
On September 16, 2009, Mitrice Richardson, a 24-year-old woman, was behaving erratically in a restaurant in Calabasas, California, potentially due to her bipolar disorder. She was taken to jail, but released that evening. She was never seen alive again. Her body was found 11 months later on August 9, 2010.
Her parents believe their daughter should have never been released. Besides her obviously dangerous mental state at the time, she didn't have her phone or car, and her mother had asked that she not be released until morning. In 2011, the Richardson family settled a civil lawsuit with L.A. county for $900,000. However, charges were never brought against anyone involved in her release and subsequent disappearance.
ABOUT MITRICE RICHARDSON (2)
Mitrice Richardson was born to Latice Sutton and Michael Richardson on April 30, 1985. She was raised by her mother and stepfather, Larry Sutton, in Covina, California. She got her Bachelor's degree in psychology in 2008 from California State University, Fullerton.
The year before the entire ordeal had been a big one for her. After graduation, she planned to become a psychologist. She came out as a lesbian, entering beauty pageants and marching in LGBTQ+ pride parades. She started dating Tessa Moon. She worked doing clerical work while figuring out where to get her master's. In the spring of 2009, Mitrice and Tessa broke up.
Mitrice began performing as a go-go dancer at a lesbian club in Long Beach, calling herself Hazel. She started a modeling portfolio, running into some shady situations, but her friends tried to keep her out of them. She won $500 in a butt-jiggling reggae dance contest in Hollywood. She was living her best life.
She fell for a girl named Vanessa at a club where she danced. Vanessa had a girlfriend, and Mitrice became a little bit obsessed, prompting Vanessa to tell her to stay away. At this point, her behavior was becoming bizarre. She would post musings on MySpace, cryptic and sad messages. Tessa said Mitrice always wanted people to think she had everything under control, but she was beginning to spiral.
Leading up to her disappearance, her mother was growing concerned as she would text her super odd, alarming messages. She begged her daughter to tell her what was wrong. "Help me understand what's going on with you?" she pleaded. "Are you feeling lost? Helpless? Alone? Rejected?"
Her response made no sense, saying she was writing a book and saying that her mother's insistance that she could be anything was a joke. She said she'd be contacting Michelle Obama to see if Barack Obama could create a position for her in the White House. Latice asked for her to call her, but responded with more strange messages, including "not everyone has to die to live".
The next morning, Mitrice went to work in an "unusually bubbly" mood, did work, left for lunch, and didn't come back.
On the night of September 16, 2009, Mitrice went to dinner at a fancy restaurant in Malibu called Geoffrey's. Staff and patrons described her behavior while there as "bizarre".
She was a little weird from the time she arrived. She sat in her car waiting for the valet, but by the time the driver was ready to park her car, she was sitting in his car with the door open. When asked why she was there, she said, "It's subliminal" and started talking about avenging the death of Michael Jackson. She gave the keys to him and asked if Vanessa was there, as if he would know who she was. Though she appeared harmless, the valet told the hostess that she was a little odd just as a warning.
Mitrice ordered an Ocean Breeze cocktail and a Kobe steak, and then jumped to another table of seven full of strangers. She tried to join the table, yammering about astrological signs. The waitress checked in on the table, who said it was bizarre, but not a problem. She went back to her own table, but returned to the other group's table later on.
At the end of her dinner, when the other group left, Mitrice headed to the door as well, where the manager asked her how she planned to cover her $89 bill. "I am busted," she said after arguing that the other table should have covered her meal. She seemed to be in a trance, telling the manager that she was from Mars and asked about settling her debt with sex. She emptied her pockets, proving she had no money, but a joint fell out, promoting a call to the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station.
While waiting for the police, who were told that she sounded crazy and may be on drugs, she told the hostess that, while watching a soap opera at work, God told her to take the afternoon off. She said she had no parents, but had a great-grandmother Mildred. The hostess called her, who offered her credit card number, but requiring a signature, 90-year-old Mildred couldn't help.
When the officers arrived, they found less than an ounce of weed in her car and administered a field sobriety test, confirming she was sober. She told the police she had been drawn to the restaurant by the lights.
The restaurant staff considered playing Mitrice's bill so she would only get a misdemeanor for pot possession, but they ended up pressing charges when they determined she was not safe on her own, especially not to drive.
Her car was impounded with all of her things inside. While Mitrice was sitting in the back of a squad car, her mother called the police station. She was concerned about her daughter, but thought a night in jail might be good for her. The deputy said that she would be safe at the station, no need for her to come get her that night. Latice said, "I think the only way I will come and get her tonight is if you guys are going to release her tonight. She definitely... she's not from that area, and I would hate to wake up to a morning report, 'Girl lost somewhere with her head chopped off." They assured her she would be safe, and would be released in the morning.
So, if law enforcement believes an arrestee to be mentally unstable, he or she can be detained if they pose a danger to themselves or others. However, such a designation requires additional paperwork, or even a trip to the hospital. As such, the arresting deputy didn't report any unusual behavior from Mitrice, just charged her with defrauding an innkeeper and possession of marijuana. Thus, keeping her locked up would have been a violation of policy.
Mitrice didn't call her mom from jail, as the only number she had memorized was Mildred's. Log books show she tried to call her 4 times, but Mildred never received a call. However, officers overheard her having a conversation on the pay phone. But since it was broken, the calls weren't recorded, so it is impossible to know if she was just talking to a dial tone. At 5:35 the next morning, Latice called the station, only to learn that her daughter was no longer there.
Sheron Cummings, the secretary, knew that Mitrice's car was impounded and that nobody was coming to pick her up, and that she had no personal items. However, she maintains that Mitrice declined an offer to stay in the lobby, and left to "meet friends" at 12:15 AM. She was 40 miles from home with no cell phone, money, or car. The closest open buildings were over a mile away.
She hung up and called back, this time speaking to Deputy Kenneth Bomgardner, who didn't know about Mitrice's arrest and release. She asked how soon she could file a missing person's report, crying, saying Mitrice didn't know the area. She said she was in a depressive state, and he asked if she'd wait a few hours.
At 6:30 AM, Bill Smith, a retired KTLA reporter, made a call to Lost Hills saying that he saw a prowler, a slim black woman with "afro hair" in the backyard. When he asked if she was okay, she said she was just resting. But when he went outside to get a better view, she was gone. The police came, but didn't find anyone.
THE SEARCH BEGINS
The sheriff's department waited for 2 days to start looking for her. They started at her last seen location, instead of deploying scent dogs from the station or if she walked the 6 miles into town. They found tracks from her shoes, but lost the pattern.
The press picked up the story quickly. A strange black woman disappeared in a white Malibu area after being in custody. Friends and family passed out flyers and looked all over the area. Her divorced parents reconciled, if only for a short period of time, to search for her. Everyone wondered the same thing... why would they release a woman in the middle of the night with no keys or phone in a remote area? Why didn't they put more emphasis on her bizarre behavior?
And perhaps most importantly, in 2006, Mel Gibson had been arrested and taken to the same jail. After he was released, he was given a ride to his car. Why did a celebrity get a ride to his car, but not a mentally ill black girl who wasn't from the area?
Some odd things started to happen within the police station. For instance, Lieutenant Scott Chew sent an email to his supervisor concerning Mitrice's arrest and release, saying she was acting strangely but justifying the decision to release her. The email subject is "I spoke with Loureiro", the arresting officer, but Chew has claimed he never spoke with him. They also denied the field sobriety test. As the weeks went on, their story started to align, despite discrepancies at the beginning: Mitrice was totally aware, not confused, and exhibited no signs of any mental incapacitation.
Her family wanted to prove this was a lie, and tried to acquire video footage from her jail cell. However, Captain Martin said it didn't exist, only to find out in January of the following year that, in fact, it did exist and was in his desk drawer. He was promoted and replaced by the end of the month. 3 months later, Mitrice's family was allowed to view the footage, where they saw her agitated and distressed... but the video was edited and cut. (For example: in one frame, she's holding a piece of paper, and in the immediate following frame, it is crumpled on the ground.)
Even more jarring, in another video, 2 minutes after Mitrice leaves the station, another deputy leaves an adjacent door. However, the department reused to reveal the name of the deputy, rousing suspicion in the family.
"The guy leaves the building right after my daughter, and they don't tell us anything about him?" Mitrice's father, Michael, says. "He could have abducted her, offered her a ride to the impound lot, left her for dead and come back for her. Maybe he didn't see her. The point is, why have they been hiding him? It's their job to get off their doughnut-eatin' asses and find the truth." YES.
The writer for the LA Magazine article I got much of this information from received the name of the deputy from a confidential source, who had been transferred 6 months after Mitrice's family viewed the footage. "Unfortunately for you, dude, I wasn't there," he said, referring to the disappearance of Mitrice as "nonsense".
A mass search started in January of 2010. Typically, when a missing person is found dead, the body is within 10 miles of where she was last seen. However, deputies never searched Dark Canyon, which was within the radius, and near where they lost her footprints.
Finally, on August 9, 2010, 10 years ago today, rangers went into Dark Canyon to check on an unrelated pot farm, and found Mitrice Richardson's body. She was less than 8 miles from the sheriff's station, and 2 miles from the last location she was seen. If only they had searched there immediately.
FINDING MITRICE'S BODY
After the rangers left, it was just the sheriff's personnel with Mitrice's nude body, covered in leaves and dirt. Hair was clung to her skull, with more hair and an earring scattered nearby. The Lost Hills deputy arrived by 1:30. There were still 6 hours of daylight left for a coroner to get to Dark Canyon, take pictures and collect evidence. However, the coroner wasn't alerted until 2:58 PM.
Here's where things get even worse. The coroner's team was told a helicopter would be sent for them and to wait. When it never came and the sun began to set, they planned to go out the next morning. But, at 8 PM, the LASD said they made the unilateral decision, "against the direction of Assistant Chief Winter" (the coroner), the report said, to air lift the remains back to the sheriff's station, despite very clear rules that a body should not be disturbed or moved without the express permission of the coroner. They were on standby for 4 hours and yet, she was removed without the coroner getting a look at her.
"You never move a body without permission," an LAPD detective said, calling the move "ass backwards". A coroner's office would only give permission to move it after an assessment, or at the very least, a detailed description and photographs. However, no photos were taken and the coroner had no context as to how the body was found. Luckily, the rangers had taken some images to provide to the coroner.
Though they had no idea what the cause of death was, the LASD was simply sure no crime had been committed. Anaphylactic shock from poison oak? No reliable statistics exist to support this, but sure. A rattlesnake bite? Only 2 people each year die in such a way, but plausible! She was completely naked? Oh, of course, an animal probably removed her jeans, bra, and belt.
From the LA magazine article, "The animals would have unfastened her 2 hook bra and gotten it out from under her. Next, they'd have dragged the detached right leg uphill by the thigh, as opposed to a more mouth-sized foot or ankle, which would have revealed bite marks - and positioned it atop a cluster of vines, at some point pullout out the femur. They'd have to carry the jeans and bra 500 feet and 600 feet, respectively, down the canyon, drop them in the creek, and carry the belt another hundred feet downstream to hang it on the mess of vines where it was found. Finally, the creatures would have to have eaten or otherwise disposed to Mitrice's 2 T-shirts, underwear, socks, and sneakers."
Oh, okay, that's a little crazy. Then the water must have removed her clothing, according to the LASD. Classic perv water, unhooking bras and unbuckling belts! Her body also was only semi-decomposed, which was odd for being in the elements for 11 months. Obviously, many believe that she was murdered. A naked woman in the woods, 2 miles from where she was last seen, who was in a known vulnerable state. You just can't rule out foul play. "On the face of it, she was killed," a veteran LAPD detective said.
The coroner didn't do an excellent examination either, leaving much of the story still on her body.
Latrice is "haunted by guilt" for not rushing to the station as soon as she heard of her daughter's arrest. She suffers from extreme anxiety and depression. She believes that she was definitely killed by someone. All of the mistakes seem like a cover-up, and the LASD's refusal to admit that it looks like foul play is possible is certainly suspicious.
On July 13, 2011, Mitrice's body was exhumed for another autopsy based on her mother's request. However, in 2016, the California Attorney General concluded there was insufficient evidence to support criminal prosecution of anyone involved.
This case is so absolutely infuriating to me. Mitrice was arrested. Sure, she was acting erratically and had drugs on her. I guess arrest her. But she was clearly in an erratic state and should have been held. And her mother said she would come get her if she'd be released that night, but she was assured she wouldn't be released until the following morning. And yet, the official reports say she wasn't acting bizarrely at all, and she was released into a remote, unknown area with no personal items despite her mother asking them to wait until morning.
Her family asked for video, which didn't exist, and then did exist, but was cut. They saw a suspicious person, but he was protected. Both the owner of the video and the man in the video were relocated within 6 months of the incident.
She was spotted, but no searches took place for another 2 days. The canyon she'd eventually be found in was within the search radius, and close to her last seen footprints, and yet, it wasn't searched for 11 months. Her body and clothes were found in such strange ways, and yet, the police refused to believe foul play could have occurred, instead believing that animals or running water took her clothes off.
When she was found, the police ignored protocol and air lifted her body away without the coroner looking first. And it may not have even helped, as the coroner did not provide a thorough examination of her body.
Regardless of what happened, the police were acting extremely suspicious. A young, possibly mentally ill black girl gets detained in a primarily white area and is released into a super remote area, miles away from civilization with no money, phone or car. It isn't a huge jump to think that something happened, especially given all of the bizarre and potentially illegal actions the police made during the investigation.
I believe Mitrice's family will fight forever for the answers they so rightly deserve. Sadly, this is not the first (and wasn't the last) time calling the police on a black person, which should not be a death sentence, became a death sentence. Mitrice was a fun, confident girl with a bright future ahead of her. And one trip to the police station, and she never gets to live another day of that life again.
Rest in power, Mitrice Richardson.