It’s been 14 days since the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson.
From the Our Weekly Newspaper
By Shirley Hawkins
Her brown eyes are alluring and her burnished skin glows when you look at family photos of Mitrice Richardson. There is an air of engaging happiness about her—a young woman with an enchanting smile whose future seemed bright.
Mitrice Richardson is beautiful and intelligent. The California State Fullerton coed held a 4.0 grade point average before graduating from college last year.
But Richardson has been the topic of speculation ever since she disappeared after leaving the Lost Hills sheriff’s station in Malibu in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 17, causing a flood of media coverage. Friends and family are distraught over her disappearance. Mitrice was released in the hilly and dangerous terrain of Malibu in the middle of the night and has yet to be found.
In a case that has baffled law enforcement officials, Richardson, a 24-year-old Black woman who when last seen was wearing a dark shirt and blue jeans, had just enjoyed a meal at Geoffrey’s restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu on Sept. 16.
Several employees noticed that Richardson seemed in an “extremely good mood” and “highly animated” when she entered the restaurant and attached herself to a party of six diners. She ordered a steak dinner and a beverage for the evening.
When the bill arrived for $89.00, Richardson did not have cash or a debit card to pay for the meal.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived and gave her a breathalyzer test which she successfully passed. Nonetheless, she was arrested and booked for not paying for the meal and for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Dr. Rhonda Hampton, a clinical psychologist who knew Richardson, appeared with Latrice Sutton, Mitrice’s mother, on KFI radio as a guest on a recent “John and Ken Show” to talk about Richardson’s strange disappearance. “When Mitrice came in the restaurant, the valet and patrons felt that something was wrong,” said Hampton. “Witnesses said her behavior was inappropriate and she was acting very strangely. I know Richardson because she completed her last year of undergraduate work with me at Fullerton. In my estimation, I believe she had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Mitrice and I had a conversation about that.”
Sutton said, “Mitrice did not have money in her possession and the authorities tried to contact her great grandmother about the bill. The restaurant refused payment because they required a signature.
“Sheriff’s deputies gave Mitrice a field sobriety test, which she passed,” said Sutton. “When Mitrice was arrested and taken to the station, authorities said Richardson did not want to remain.”
Pausing, Sutton added, “I was told they would keep Mitrice until the morning. I was going to bail her out in the morning, but I did not know that morning was 1:25 a.m. They released Matrice without any bail.
“No one has seen her or heard from Mitrice,” said Sutton. “She was released after 1 a.m. and she was on foot. She did not have any food, no phone, and she was unfamiliar with the area.”
Hampton said, “Police felt that she was exhibiting some type of mental health issue, but now they are backing off that statement.”
Tom Martin, captain of the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff’s station, said that Detectives Chuck Knolls and Steven Eguchi are conducting the investigation into Richardson’s disappearance. “I know we followed procedure and we did everything right. We were not allowed to keep Ms. Richardson in custody when she was eligible to be released,” he said.
“People usually have someone pick them up, but Ms. Richardson said that she could not get hold of anybody to pick her up,” said Martin. “The jailer tried to have her stay until morning and even asked if she wanted to stay in the lobby, but she only wanted to get out of there. She said she was going to hook up with friends.”
Around 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 17, Martin reports that the station got a call from a couple living on Cold Canyon Road in Montenito (an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, one mile from Malibu). “The resident said he looked out and saw a young lady on (their) front steps. He called out to the young lady and asked if she was all right. She said she was okay, she was just resting. When he looked out again a few minutes, later, she was gone. She generally matched the description of Richardson.”
After missing for 48 hours, Martin stated that a search was launched for Richardson on Sept. 19. “We had 12 searchers and four dogs combing the Malibu hills area and we didn’t find anything. Then the LAPD asked if we would assist them on the 26th of September. We had 175 people searching throughout the entire canyon that included 30 dogs as well as people on horseback, on motorcycles, bicycles, mountain bikes and on foot. We searched the brush and did a door to door search.”
Martin added that, “It would be unusual to have a kidnap in this area, I don’t even remember the last time we had a kidnapped person. When we have a missing person, they have been hiking or they were lost. Most of the people we track down are runaways where they argued with their parents, or someone with Alzheimer’s. But nothing in our memory has matched this disappearance.”
Michael Richardson, Mitrice’s father, said he was distraught that his daughter has yet to be found. “At this point, I feel the behavior she displayed at the restaurant shows some kind of mental breakdown. Patrons described her behavior like she was suffering from a mental state.
“We cannot get a police report and the sheriffs and LAPD are not giving us any justification as to why,” said Richardson. “The cameras at Geoffrey’s restaurant and at the police station recorded all the activity when Mitrice was there. I told both the owner at Geoffrey’s and officers at the police station the first day Mitrice was missing that I would like to see the tapes. They said they would get back to me on that. When I followed up, both tapes are now not available,” he said.
On Sept. 19, Richardson recalls that he and some friends drove to Malibu to search for his daughter. “We went out there in the daytime and stayed until 8:30 at night. “We were yelling for her. We did a door-to-door search asking neighbors if they had seen her.”
Richardson said he shuddered when he surveyed the hilly terrain in Malibu. “Mitrice was released at 1:25 a.m. and she had to walk around mudslide condition hills, there were steep drop downs over bridges, and it looked like you really have to know where you are going. You are subject to wind up in any kind of ditch, it’s just very dangerous. The pit of my stomach fell down because it’s scary, and I can just imagine what it’s like at night.”
Richardson is even more disturbed after repeatedly calling the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff’s station to receive updates on the search for his daughter.
“At this point, they are not responding to my calls. Their stories have changed. I call to follow up on my daughter’s disappearance and they hang up the phone,” said Richardson, who added that he has documented all communication with the sheriff’s department.
“The detectives have crossed their legs and put their feet on the table and done absolutely nothing,” he claimed.
As to why Mitrice Richardson would be in Malibu an area that was unfamiliar to her, the father reflected, “Mitrice wanted to get her master’s degree in psychology at Pepperdine in Malibu, so we feel that she may have stopped near Pepperdine before dining at Geoffrey’s.”
Attorney Leo Terrell, who is representing the family, said he is angered by the Mitrice Richardson case. “If an adult or child is showing some type of mental problems, they have a legal obligation to hold them. Mitrice was showing signs of bizarre behavior. There is not enough being done to locate Mitrice as far as the family is concerned,” said Terrell, who said he has requested the FBI to get involved in the case. “The sheriff’s department dropped the ball by not conducting an immediate search. Their reaction to Mitrice’s disappearance is only due to public criticism and media pressure. The sheriff’s department is responsible for her being lost right now. In essence, they should never have let a 24-year-old woman leave the station after 1:30 a.m. without a car, money or phone.”
In light of Richardson’s disappearance, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a motion Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors to offer a $10,000 reward for information leading to the whereabouts of Mitrice Richardson.
“Every minute counts in our effort to safely reunite Ms. Richardson with her family,” Ridley-Thomas said in a statement.