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Editorial

No more Mitrice Richardsons

In light of Mitrice Richardson's death, the Sheriff's Department needs to reexamine its policies regarding the release of people in relatively remote areas.

August 29, 2011

The tentative $900,000 settlement between the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the parents of Mitrice Richardson will not assuage the grief and remorse that must be felt by almost everyone connected to this tragedy.

The monetary award will only end the negligence lawsuit lodged against the Sheriff's Department over its handling of the case. Richardson, 24, was arrested in September 2009 for not being able to pay a restaurant dinner bill, and then released from custody at the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff's station in Agoura, north of Malibu Canyon, around midnight with nothing but the clothes on her back. Her purse and cellphone were in her car, which had been impounded. She disappeared, and her skeletal remains were discovered 11 months later in a rugged ravine of the canyon.

What should now begin in earnest — and should have started already — is the Sheriff Department's reexamination of its policies regarding the release of people in relatively remote areas.

The department was found not to have violated any of its policies regarding custody and release in the case of Richardson. And officials have maintained that jail personnel suggested to Richardson, after she was released, that she stay the night in the sheriff's station lobby — or a cell — and make her way home in daylight. She declined, they said. "I don't know if there's a policy that can stop a free person from leaving a jail facility, which she had the right to do as an adult," Sheriff Lee Baca said in January.

The Sheriff's Department is, of course, right to be concerned about over-detention; it can't simply hold people if it doesn't have grounds to do so. But this is not really about holding people; it is about releasing them, and the conditions under which it is done. Authorities should find a way to ensure that some kind of transportation is offered to people released after dark from stations in relatively remote or crime-ridden areas. A lift to an impounded car or a shuttle bus ride to a public transportation hub, a taxi stand or even a residence within a certain distance of the station — surely something along those lines could be worked out. We realize that there is a cost to this, and that the Sheriff's Department cannot fully guarantee a person's safety after they are released. But it can mitigate the most obvious risks.

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