The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigation into the disappearance and death of Mitrice Richardson in 2009 has never been closed—but it has been more than seven years since new information has emerged about what happened to the 24-year-old after her late-night release from a holding cell at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.
On Tuesday, the 10-year anniversary of the last confirmed sighting of Richardson, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva spoke to a gathering of Richardson’s friends and loved ones, notably including her former mentor-turned-family-friend Dr. Ronda Hampton, who helped organize the event. But rather than announce new leads in the case, officials pointed to policy changes that resulted from “holes in policies” in place at the time Richardson was released.
When asked whether there would be a fresh examination of the deputies’ actions on the night Richardson was released from the station, Villanueva said, “The actions of the deputies have been examined at the internal affairs level—which is internal to the organization—the office of independent review led by Mike Gennaco at the time—and then the Attorney General’s office. So, we have three different entities have examined the information … Unless we have more information, the results are not going to change.”
Later, Villanueva added that, “There’s a difference between wrongdoing and holes in policies … Policies in any organization, they’re not foolproof—there’s always going to be something that falls through the cracks. In this case, it wound up being Mitrice Richardson, and that’s something we’re going to have to live with forever.”
Villanueva, who was previously quoted as saying there would be “fresh eyes” on the case, focused on “lessons learned” and policy changes that have occurred since the disappearance; he did not indicate the launch of a new stage in the investigation, as some evidently hoped.
Sheriff’s department lack of commitment to relaunching an investigation struck a nerve with Hampton.
“I have been told over the years that this is a ‘clue-driven case,’ which basically means this: ‘We sit on our ass until someone comes forward with information—and if no one does, then we are not going to do anything,’” Hampton said Tuesday. “That’s all fine and good except for the fact there has been much information that has been brought to the station, from me. People will call in tips, and they still sit on their ass and they still don’t investigate it. So, yes, I’m disappointed and I’m not going to let it go.”
This week marks 10 years since the disappearance of 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson, who went missing after being released (alone and on foot) from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department custody early in the morning of Sept. 17, 2009. A recent college graduate, Richardson was described as a talented dancer with a vibrant personality. Almost immediately, her parents began to demand more information about the events that led up to their daughter’s disappearance.
Richardson’s disappearance and her family’s quest for justice quickly made national headlines.
Just under one year after her disappearance, in August 2010, Richardson’s partially-mummified remains were found in a remote area of Malibu Canyon, miles away from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station she was released from.
On the evening of Sept. 16, 2009, Richardson was arrested at Geoffrey’s in Malibu after she was unable to pay her $89 bill. According to reports by Geoffrey’s management at the time, she was also acting erratically and speaking in a “made up language” about “Mars.”
At 11:03 p.m., Richardson was booked at the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. She was released the same night at 12:35 a.m. without her car, purse or telephone.
According to an interview conducted that month by The Malibu Times with Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Cpt. Tom Martin, releasing Richardson alone at that hour was in line with LASD protocol, since they offered to allow her to stay overnight if she wished.
“She said she didn’t want to do that and that she was going to meet friends,” Martin told The Malibu Times (at the time). “We were obligated to release her at that point.”
In the early morning of Sept. 17, Mitrice was reportedly seen on the front lawn of a nearby residence. That would be the last time she was seen alive.
Eleven months later, Richardson’s remains were found in Malibu Canyon, yards from her clothing. An autopsy and investigation have not proven how she died or whether there was any foul play involved, though her family insists she would not have willingly gone into the canyon alone.
Julie Ellerton and Hans Laetz of KBUU News contributed to this report.