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Mitrice Richardson's family complains about search's slow pace

The 24-year-old woman disappeared Sept. 17 after being released from the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff's Station. Her parents have filed negligence claims against L.A. County.

March 16, 2010|By Carla Hall

In the six months since Mitrice Richardson vanished in rugged Malibu Canyon, detectives have tracked reported sightings of her. Searchers have combed a total of 40 square miles looking for any sign of her -- alive or dead.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles) called for the FBI's involvement, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked the Sheriff's Department to review the policies that led to the release of the Cal State Fullerton graduate from the custody of the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff's Station shortly after midnight Sept. 17, 2009, without her car, purse or cellphone.

But none of that has assuaged her frustrated parents, who on Tuesday -- the day before the six-month mark of their daughter's disappearance -- stood in front of the county's Hall of Administration and criticized what they see as authorities moving slowly on the search and politicians ignoring them.

Richardson, 24, was arrested at Geoffrey's, a Malibu restaurant, for not paying an $89 dinner bill. Patrons and staffers said that she had acted bizarrely that night. Since her disappearance, detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department have discovered evidence that she had been suffering from a severe bipolar disorder. Deputies who arrived to arrest her described her as "coherent and rational," said L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

Her father, Michael Richardson, filed a damages claim against the county, citing deputies for negligence in releasing his daughter into the night, especially after they were told of her odd behavior. His claim echoes a similar one filed two months ago by Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton. Sutton and Richardson are not married to each other.

Both believe there are more facts to uncover about deputies' actions that night in Calabasas. "This is just a drastic step we have to take," said her father regarding his claim for damages.

Police homicide detectives investigated the case full time for four months and continue to follow leads. So do sheriff's investigators, according to Steve Whitmore, a department spokesman.

But Sutton complained Tuesday that authorities "haven't been returning phone calls. They just dropped this. We've been trying to get drones out to search Malibu Canyon."

Mike Hennig, co-director of the San Diego nonprofit RP Search Services West, has agreed to provide his company's unmanned aerial drones to search the dense and steep Malibu area.

"It's very safe, very efficient," he said of a drone that can both photograph and evaluate difficult-to-access areas. His firm's drones were used in recent high-profile missing-persons cases in San Diego County.

Hennig said he has spoken to two law enforcement officials (whose names he could not recall) who were receptive to the idea of using drones to search for Richardson. "We're kind of on hold waiting to hear back."

Whitmore said: "We have no problem with that. The sheriff is always open to any new ideas. But we haven't been officially asked."

carla.hall@latimes.com

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