The mother of Mitrice Richardson — the woman missing since she was released from the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff's station in the dark, early morning of Sept. 17 — filed a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against Los Angeles County and Sheriff's Department officials.
Citing video footage of Richardson in a holding cell that shows her behaving in an infantile manner, Latice Sutton blamed the Sheriff's Department for failing to give her daughter a medical or psychiatric evaluation.
Instead, Sutton said authorities released Richardson into the remote Calabasas area without her car, which had been impounded, cellphone or purse.
Her disappearance prompted several massive searches and an investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department. Police investigators later concluded that she was probably suffering from a severe form of bipolar disorder. Staff at Geoffrey's restaurant in Malibu, where she was arrested for not paying her bill, said she was acting "crazy."
The Sheriff's Department has always maintained that Richardson seemed lucid and normal during the several hours she was held at the station.
But Tuesday, standing outside the Los Angeles County Courthouse, Sutton said that the video, which she first saw in late March, shows her daughter clutching the screen of the holding pen and swaying from side to side.
"She's grabbing at a door where she's swinging back and forth," Sutton said. "She's pulling at the back of her hair." She tries to make a call at a pay phone. Unsuccessful, she relinquishes the receiver.
Hours later, Richardson vanished.
"They knew when they got the phone call from Geoffrey's that she was acting strangely," said Sutton's attorney, Leo Terrell, at the news conference outside the county building. "They saw this conduct. They ignored the conduct."
Terrell said the lawsuit was also alleging unlawful arrest. "There was an offer to pay the bill. Mitrice Richardson should not have been arrested," he said. Richardson's great-grandmother had offered to give restaurant staffers a credit card number over the phone but she was told that she would have to also fax a signature.
Although the suit seeks unspecified monetary damages, both Sutton and Terrell said the primary reason for filing it is to give them the right to demand information about the night Richardson was arrested.
"This magical lawsuit will allow me to obtain every single document in the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department and to depose every officer and detective involved," Terrell said. He also said the suit would enable him to get a copy of the videotape that Sutton was allowed to view but not take.
Los Angeles police, who were not involved in her arrest or subsequent release, are not named in the suit. The LAPD was asked to investigate, and two detectives spent four months full time working on the case. They continue to follow leads as they come up.
"I feel as though I am forced at this point to bring this lawsuit to get answers," said Sutton, holding a framed photo of her daughter in cap and gown for her 2008 graduation from Cal State Fullerton. "My hope is she's alive .... But based on how long she's been missing, she's either being held and transported or she's dead. I have to face that possibility."