What Happened To Mitrice Richardson

by riese & sarah

This story is about a lot of things: it seems to be, at its core, about racism and city politics. It’s also about the inexcusable ignorance surrounding mental illness on the behalf of city employees entrusted with assessing the fitness of arrested citizens for public release. And it’s about the power and the limitations of community activism and, hopefully, how far that activism can go to enable lasting change…

On the morning of Sept. 17, 2009, Latice Sutton made her second phone call in 12 hours to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. She had called the night before to ask when she should pick up her daughter who had been arrested and was being held in custody far from home, and was without a wallet, car, or cell phone.

The officer in that first phone call told her that Mitrice would call her when she got to the station; he did not know when she would be released. Latice told him that she felt “safe with her being in custody — it’s being released that I’m worried about.” He told her that she did not have to worry about Mitrice’s safety.

But Latice found out the next morning that Mitrice had been released at 12:30 a.m. And she hadn’t come home.

Officer: Lost Hills Station…
Latice Sutton: Yes, hello, this is Latice Sutton, I called not too long ago about my daughter Mitrice Richardson. How long before a missing person’s report can be filed — 24 or 48 hours?
Officer: Well, it depends on the circumstances, but, uh, I didn’t take your call so I’m not familiar with it. Did she just not return home after going out?
Latice Sutton: She was arrested last night. This is the first time she’s been arrested. She’s in an unknown area she’s never been in. She’s without a vehicle, nobody can find her.
Officer: And where was this at? Where was she arrested at?
Latice Sutton: Your facility. Her name is Mitrice Richardson.
Officer: Do you know if she’s here now, or was she released?
Latice Sutton: They said she was released.
Officer: And what time was she released?
Latice Sutton: Um, just shortly after 12 a.m.
Officer: Yeah normally I wouldn’t recommend doing one that soon —
Latice Sutton: Right, what is the time frame.
Officer: You know, probably, I guess 24 hours would be reasonable. I mean, if there would be some mitigating factors, where, you know, you would suspect maybe something.
Latice Sutton: She doesn’t know the area, she’s never been in your area before [voice breaking], she is unfamiliar with that area…
Officer: Do you think she possibly could’ve gotten a bus home?
Latice Sutton: Listen, my child has never ridden a bus, no.
Officer: OK.
Latice Sutton: She would not know how to ride a bus.
Officer: I would probably wait until early this morning, and if she doesn’t turn up you can certainly call. I don’t suspect anything bad happened…
Latice Sutton: I am concerned because, well, first of all, I thought they were going to keep her overnight because she was highly intoxicated. Something is obviously going on with her…
Officer: Have you talked to the jailer?
Latice Sutton: Yes, yes, yes I have. He said he tried to get her to stay, but because she was an adult, they had to let her go. I believe that she is highly depressed, and she’s in a depressive state. (sobbing)
Officer: You know it could be possible, I mean, maybe she… I mean there’s a lot of options, a lot of possibilities, and I don’t think a lot of them would be something dire. But I can certainly understand your fears, you know, being your daughter and all that.
Latice Sutton: Well, I think she’s depressed. That’s what has me worried…
Officer: That’s what is worrying you more, ok.
Latice Sutton: That and she is in an area that she doesn’t know where she’s at.
Officer: Does she take medication at all?
Latice Sutton: No! I believe that the state that she’s in right… because of the weird activity that has been going on…
Officer: What’s her name?
Latice Sutton: Her name is… her name is Mitrice Richardson. [sobbing]
Officer: OK, and your name ma’am?
Latice Sutton: Latice.
Officer: OK Latice, here’s what I want you to do. Why don’t you wait a couple hours and give us some time, and I’ll go back to talk to the jailer and try and get a timeline of when she was released, and you know, make sure she’s not asleep in our lobby or anything like that, and then why don’t you give us a call back in a couple hours if she hasn’t shown up or made contact with you, and maybe we can do something for you.

While this conversation was happening, Mitrice Richardson was most likely wandering around Malibu Canyon near Monte Nido. The sheriff’s department had received two phone calls that morning with reports of a thin black woman wandering through the neighborhood.

She was not found until last week, when her remains were identified during a search of the canyon.

When we initially posted about Mitrice, there wasn’t much reaction. I suppose there’s not much to say about this kind of thing besides “how horrible,” and comments are often a poor barometer of relevance or interest, but the only comments on the post were contentions with our highlighting of her homosexuality in the headline. But we’ve kept following the case and honored Jasmyne Cannick in our 2009 Autostraddle Icons for her work mobilizing the search for Mitrice. Also, she wrote this post recently called “I Have More Faith in This List of People to Find Out What Really Happened to Mitrice Than I Do in the L.A. Sheriff’s Dept.,” and it’s pretty amazing.

Richardson’s mother and father are now suing the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in a multimillion-dollar case alleging negligence and wrongful death. And the Rev. Al Sharpton is now asking for a federal investigation into Richardson’s disappearance and death, saying it could be a test case about racial profiling in missing persons cases.

The story has only gotten more strange, complicated and sad the longer we have been following it, but it’s one you need to know about. Here’s our best account of what happened.

The Disappearance

At 7:40 p.m. on Sept. 16, 2009, an employee at Geoffery’s Restaurant made a 911 call to the Malibu Sheriff’s Office, claiming a patron was unable to pay her $89.51 bill and was “acting crazy.” Officers arrived and took Mitrice Richardson into custody. Her receipt indicated she’d had only one drink with her meal. She had no prior criminal record. She was arrested and booked for defrauding an innkeeper & possession of marijuana after the police found less than an ounce of marijuana in her car, despite the fact that in California, personal use marijuana is an offense that usually does not result in an arrest. Her car, with her cell phone and ID inside, was impounded. Mitrice’s mother Latice called the sheriff’s station when she found out that Mitrice was arrested — before Mitrice had even arrived at the station. Latice asked if her daughter would be released that evening, saying “the only way I will come and get her tonight is if you guys are going to release her tonight.” She expressed concern that it was dark, that Mitrice did not know the area, had no place to go around there, and that this behavior was “so out of character” for Mitrice.

She later told the officer she was concerned about what would happen if her daughter was released, joking “I would hate to wake up to a morning report of a girl with her head chopped off!”

At 12:38 a.m. on Sept. 17, Mitrice was released from the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department — 50 miles from home, in an unfamiliar area, and without a car, cell-phone or wallet. Latice found out about her release the next morning.

Mitrice Missing map

At 5:30 a.m., the department received a phone call from a man who lived in that neighborhood about a thin black woman who had been asleep on his lawn when he woke up. When the man asked if she was okay, she said that she was just relaxing. He didn’t see where she’d gone, but seemed concerned about her health and safety. She was gone by the time the Sherriffs arrived. Police received another report of a black woman walking around the area at 7:30 a.m.

After that, there were no further signs of Mitrice, except a few reports of random sightings in downtown Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Police in LA and Las Vegas began exploring theories that Richardson was working as a prostitute in Nevada or was “under the influence of someone keeping her isolated.”

One such report even came from her father, though he contends that the police didn’t take it seriously until another man reported something similar. He said in a recent interview with CNN:

I was in Las Vegas in January of this year. I reported a sighting of my daughter not just based on the way she looked but this girl had a similar walk and body movement to the point I jumped out of a car on a busy street almost getting hit.

When I turned that information in to the Sheriffs who are investigating they didn’t really follow up on it. Six months later they then decided to take this young man’s — and I’m glad they did — information and follow up on it.

In light of the recent uncovering of her body, those reports seem to have been misidentifcations. Coroners say Mitrice’s body had been in the canyon for anywhere between six months to a year, and she was found within 20 miles of the station.

A Slow Response

According to bringmitricehome.com, a site that appears to be run by Mitrice’s family to raise awareness about her case, Michael Richardson attempted to contact Malibu Mayor Andy Stern about the search for Mitrice. But when he approached the mayor to ask, he was rebuffed. According to the timeline on the site:

The Mayor tells Mr. Richardson that he’s on his way to a meeting and doesn’t have time to stop and speak with him. Mr. Richardson then calls the Mayor’s real estate business cell phone posing as a Black football star interested in one of the Mayor’s $2.2 million homes. The Mayor offers to cancel his previously scheduled meeting and meet him right away at the property for a showing. When the Mayor realizes that he’s speaking to Mr. Richardson, who he just said he didn’t have time for, the Mayor is embarrassed.

In October, Richardson called Stern to talk about the case, but Stern hung up on him because he said Richardson “had become abusive.” Richardson then left voicemails threatening to protest outside the mayor’s office. Stern reported Richardson to the Sheriff’s Department because of the voicemails.

Stern said Richardson wanted him, and the city, to do something about his missing daughter, but the mayor said, “We don’t the have the authority and ability and know how to tell emergency people what to do.”

In November, the City of Malibu put out a $15,000 reward for information leading to the whereabouts of Mitrice Richardson.

In December, Congresswoman Maxine Waters requested an FBI probe into the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson. The County of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the City of Los Angeles Police Department joined forces searching in the greater Lost Hills/Malibu Canyon area in January.

Mitrice Richardson Likely Suffered from Bipolar Disorder

The American Psychiatric Assocation’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases classify bipolar disorder as an “adult onset disorder.”

Mitrice was 24.

Based on witness testimony, it’s likely Mitrice was experiencing a manic episode, possibly her first.

The Geoffery’s employee who called the Sheriff’s Department told them “she sounds really crazy” and suggested that maybe she was on drugs. She’d racked up a bill she couldn’t pay and was surprised when a social group she’d attached herself to didn’t pay for her meal. (Sufferers of mania experience impaired judgment and may go on spending sprees or engage in behavior that is abnormal for them.)

“She seemed a little euphoric — a little odd,” said restaurant owner Jeff Peterson… Richardson said “she was from Mars and started speaking in a made-up language . . . she did tell my valet at one point that she was here to avenge Michael Jackson’s death.” (Persons experiencing a manic episode will experience psychosis or a break with reality while others are euphoric and grandiose.)

According to a restaurant employee, heaps of alcohol was found in Mitrice’s car (not reported by the police) and according to the police, marijuana was found on Mitrice and in her car. (Manic persons may indulge in substance abuse, particularly alcohol or other depressants.)

The restaurant employee also told Mitrice’s father that his (male) friend said Mitrice had been flirtatious with him, which was highly out of character for Mitrice, who was comfortable with her sexuality and had been out for some time. (Manic episodes are often characterized by hypersexual drive.)

Following her disappearance, Mitrice’s journal was “probed for clues” by mental health professionals. They found that Mitrice had gone without sleep for up to five nights prior to her arrest and spent the last five days calling and texting strange things to her friends, making entries on her MySpace and Facebook pages and “writing in her journals around the clock.”. (Mania is characterized by a decreased need for sleep.) They say she may have been suffering from severe bipolar disorder.

Colleagues at the Mercantile Freight Office in Santa Fe Springs saw her at work the day of her arrest and reported she was “giddy, really giggly. Out of the ordinary.”

“It appeared she had been living out of her car — there were clothes that weren’t folded, makeup, books, several purses, these journals,” Knolls said. “It looked like she was homeless — even though she wasn’t. Her friends said it wasn’t unusual for her to stay in her car for several days.”

After seeing her booking photo, Mitrice’s father said, “She looked like a demon had come inside her. That was not my daughter. It ran chills up my spine. I’ve never seen my daughter look like that.” If you’ve ever seen a loved one in a manic state, you know exactly what he’s talking about — this is why sufferers were often dismissed as being “possessed by demons” before psychology defined and described bipolar disorder.

Although it is procedure to evaluate the mentally incapacitated, deputies did not do so, despite the fact that Mitrice wanted to leave the station at 1 a.m. in an unfamiliar area with no way to get home, and the fact that she’d told restaurant patrons she was from Mars. Their excuse? She passed a “field sobriety test” and wanted to be released. Of course she did. The fact that she said she’d like to be released is crazy in and of itself — what sane person would want to walk out into an unfamiliar area with no money, phone, car or ride in the middle of the night?

The Friends Group of Pasadena wrote a letter to the Sheriff to “[request] a copy of the Department’s nighttime release protocols” and request “that the protocols used for nighttime releases be made public and be re-examined.”

Now, I’ve [this is Riese here] been to jail to pick up a manic (lesbian) person (of color) to find she’d already been released because “she was fine,” despite being covered in self-inflicted bruises and having been drunk on arrival. She’d been arrested for “disturbing the peace” after spending a night yelling at her neighbors in Godspeak. “She was chatting everybody up!” said the clerk, as if that meant she was okay. Fantastic.  I literally had to find her by walking around a town I’d never been to, praying for a signal from G-d to lead me in her direction, which might sound crazy to most of you, but I didn’t have many options. (see: #1 in this blog post).

Basically, people are busy and overworked and if someone appears to present no harm to themselves or others, it’s easiest to just let them out. It’s a complicated issue: anti-psychiatry advocates argue that adults should be treated as such and the controversies around detaining an inmate based on suspected mental health issues are murky — subjective judgments of sanity by non-medical professionals can be misinformed, misguided or prejudiced.

But Mitrice’s mother had called – isn’t that enough? The LAPD’s guidelines think so. Mitrice’s mother may not have diagnosed her daughter or testified to a family history of mental illness, but how could she really know? It’s late onset, that’s why it’s so scary sometimes — you can’t always tell if someone is growing up, going crazy, or if you’re just getting to know them better. Most people think mental illness pops up early and don’t realize that someone could have their first episode in their 20s. Furthermore, the shame around mental illness is crippling, and it’s very difficult for parents to readily admit their child could be ill. These circumstances need to be considered by law enforcement officers – that’s their job.

Would this have happened to a white girl?

Why did somebody let a 24-year-old woman out into the night with no ride, no ID, no money and no cell-phone, hours after the nearest bus had stopped running? Why wasn’t she at least taken to where her car had been impounded? Why would anyone think you could do such a thing to another human being and not be held accountable for it? Mitrice’s father has noted that he doesn’t think this would’ve happened to a “Spears or Lohan.” But really would the LAPD have let an attractive, well-educated white girl with no prior arrest record out into an unfamiliar area at 12:40 a.m. without fearing recourse?

When 17-year-old Chelsea King was found, Jasmyne wrote: “Apparently, it seems that in order to get the FBI involved in a missing person’s case you need to be the following: white, female, and from a privileged background. Something that 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson isn’t.”


The Gay Thing

We first read about Mitrice when she made the cover of People magazine in November 2009. I’d remembered her story particularly because, I admit, it had shades of Anne Heche – before she disappeared, she was speaking in tongues, wandering the hills of California. That’s why it was interesting to find out, via The Advocate the next week, what People Magazine left out — her sexuality.

SheWired reported: “This missing woman case didn’t gain much traction in the media during the first few weeks after her disappearance. She’s young and pretty, but she’s also black, a lesbian, and works part-time as a dancer at a gay nightclub.”

Mitrice’s father has been outspoken about the LAPD’s failures in this case, but is “highly grateful to the gay and lesbian community.” When supposed friends told Michael that “the Bible says [Mitrice] is going to hell for this; this is God’s way of showing her,” he defended her: “My daughter taught me not to pass judgment. One of the quickest ways to lose Mitrice [as a friend] is to act self-righteous.”

Mitrice Richardson: Reality vs. Mugshot

Jane Velez-Mitchell, HLN anchorwoman (and out lesbian), has been one of the few on-air reporters on top of this story. Last week, she had Mitrice’s mother on her show with a call-in from the family lawyer:

Jasmyne Cannick, a blogger and community organizer who has spearheaded efforts to find Mitrice and hold the LAPD accountable for their mishandling of the case, had this to say when the remains were identified:

From the beginning, the Sheriff’s Department has never been forthright and honest about their handling of Mitrice Richardson. You will probably never read about it in the newspaper or see it in the television reports, but I lived it, every day for the past 11 months with her family.

I saw the paperwork that was altered. I met with Sheriff Lee Baca and his henchman in Monterey Park when they finally agreed to meet with her father Michael Richardson.

And yes—I was there today when they announced that the remains found in Malibu on Monday were in fact Mitrice… You don’t notify someone that their daughter is dead via answering machine. You hold off on the press conference until you reach them first.

And in typical fashion, Baca defended his deputies actions and placed the blame on Geoffrey’s for making a citizen’s arrest of Mitrice.

Yes, Geoffrey’s is to blame, but ultimately, the blame belongs to the Sheriff’s Department.

And no, you do not blame the victim. You do not blame the victim. Mental issues or not, you do not blame the victim.

The LAPD obviously says that there is no foul play:

The Office of Independent Review, which oversees the Sheriff’s Department, found that the department “properly and legally” released Richardson, according to a 58-page draft report. The report says that the station personnel “were not negligent in determining that Ms. Richardson did not demonstrate any symptoms of an existing mental health illness.”


The Friends Group of Pasadena is currently working to raise awareness on the issue of Custodial Night Time Release: “Persons in the custody of local law enforcement agencies are frequently released between midnight and 3:00 a.m. without money, transportation or a way to call someone to pick them up. This practice fails to ensure the safety of persons who have been released. We refer to this practice as “Custodial Night Time Release.” Read their website for more information.

You can also sign the petition to make Sherrif Lee Baca take a lie detector test about Mitrice’s case.

What happened to Mitrice Richardson cannot be undone, but hopefully attention to her case, and pressure on the people involved, will prevent this from ever happening to someone else.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3227 articles for us.


  1. This is going to sound a little pissy, so I’m sorry. It’s just that these types of stories really hit close to home. I’m in law enforcement, but I don’t work anywhere near where this incident took place. I just want to say that there are some of us out there who do truly care. I don’t profile. I don’t discriminate. I do my job as best I can to try to help people. All people. It really bothers me when I hear “cops are bad because of ___” Trust me, there are A LOT OF ASSHOLES, and it is a boys’ club, but I’m here too. And I love and care about each and every one of you.

    Also, the LAPD and LA County Sheriff’s Department are two different things. The LAPD only deals with incidents in the Los Angeles city limits.

    • I hope you didn’t think we were trying to paint all law enforcement as categorically racist or something like that. This particular situation is just really heartbreaking. I’ve seen a lot of questionable incidents with the law enforcement where I live, too, but it doesn’t mean every police officer is bad. Thanks for being out there and fighting for us, wasteunit!

      Also I think we kept the police and the sheriffs separate, but it got pretty confusing because the LAPD took over the the missing persons search after a while. So if there’s an inconsistency somewhere, it’s probably because of that.

      • I’m very sensitive about that stereotype because it’s something I’m constantly fighting against. Then idiots like Baca have to make it more difficult.

        I mentioned the LAPD vs LA County Sheriff thing because I noticed “LAPD” was mentioned around links that seemed to deal more with the Sheriff’s Department. It definitely could have been me being dumb, but I found it a little confusing.

        Sorry for being uppity. I think all of you do a great job bringing important stories like this one to our attention. Again, it’s just a sore subject for me.

          • only I find it cutious her mother is VERY inconsistent with her even saying on JVM oh Mitrice had acted weirdly a few times before… how is she expecting police to classify her as a mental person when SHE the mom never suspected it? she mentions being depressed on the phone but never took her to a doc? got her meds? I sense some homophobia in her too. From her words, her daughter was perfect but the news od lesbianism disrupted that and was NEVER mentioned until the media dug it up. The mom is looking to sue/anger while t he father truly was focused on the daughter. The girl was also NOT living with the mom and in her myspace page was clearly contemplating suicid/running of

  2. For me, what this case has really highlighted is a lack of understanding about mental illness. I think bipolarity, in particular, is challenging because a person in a manic state is often so completely detached and unlike themselves that it’s easy to understand where the idea of possession originated, from my observations, most people instinctually want to distance themselves from that person or attribute the behavior to something else – drug use, even “faking it for attention.”

    There was a similar case in Chicago last year, a girl of about the same age was on spring break in Chicago. At the end of her trip she ended up being taken into police custody because she’d had a manic break at the airport where she’d ended up causing a scene – swearing, spitting, and throwing things at people. Her parents weren’t aware she’d been jailed till she’d already been released. Part of why she was released even though she was clearly not doing well was because she was an adult, although officers had also referenced her being particularly unpleasant as a reason they hadn’t been especially interested in helping her further. She somehow ended up on the west side of the city and got thrown off of an apartment building. Does anyone remember that case?

    All of which makes me wonder, do law enforcement officials receive training to deal with people with various psychological disorders? And why isn’t it possible to detain someone who seems out of their head until they can receive medical attention or be collected by a member of their own family?

  3. This is the first I’ve heard of this case, and it also hits close to home for me, for different reasons.

    A couple of years ago, I was helping a friend who is bipolar and was experiencing psychosis. The circumstances under which she would be released from mental health facilities, when they KNEW she was fully psychotic, were horrifying. We also did not know her whereabouts. Reading about this young woman brings it all back.

    My heart goes out to her family.

  4. I’m at work, so I can’t respond to this fully, but how common is it for someone to be arrested and unable to retrieve their wallet / cell phone / etc. from their car? I don’t know how much either item would have helped her, given her state at the time of the release (which I have so many feelings about), or if she would have even been in a position to ask for them when she was picked up, but it just made me think. I mean, if I was taken in for some reason the arresting officer(s) didn’t let me take my personal effects, I’d be in a pretty tricky spot 50 miles from home too, and that’s assuming that I’d be fully sober and mentally healthy.

    • Rephrase for clarity: Even with a mentally healthy state and sobriety, it would be very difficult to be stranded fifty miles from home at midnight with no wallet and no phone.

  5. Actually, let me take a break from work, because like I said, feelings:

    As a culture (this country?), we have serious stigma issues with mental health. People are undereducated, afraid of, and made to be ashamed of mental illness. The under-education feeds the fear which feeds the under-education in this twisted cycle, and while this is clearly a case that sheds light on several things, this is the one that hits home most for me, personally.

    Yes, I do think that emergency responders should be better equipped to handle mental illness, but it isn’t just their problem. All of us, as a society, should be finding ways to break this cycle of misinformation and fear.

    May I suggest a roundtable discussion?

    • I totally agree with you.

      I’d have virtually no knowledge of bipolar disorder if it weren’t for the fact that a close friend is bipolar and that I volunteer for a crisis line where a certain amount of knowledge is necessary, just in terms of knowing how to speak with someone and who their call should be referred to (i.e. – a mental health professional, a hospital, another crisis line, etc).

      And so I wonder, my situation is that I only know the bare minimum that has been situationally required of me, and from what I’ve read in various police reports, it seems like, in regard to psychological disorders, law enforcement officials operate from a certain level of ignorance or misunderstanding, but that’s only kind of a reflection of a larger social misunderstanding/aversion to educating themselves about mental illness.

      In retrospect there was a lot of buildup towards my friend’s first manic break, but because we’re not educated to see those kinds of things, everyone attributed the “strangeness” to various external sources, until one night I came home from a party to find her in the middle of a breakdown. It was frightening, but also really eye-opening, here was one of my close friends, clearly in distress, and I had totally missed it because we’re not trained to recognize mental illness, or when someone may need help, in our day-to-day lives.

      So, yeah, Maryann, I think this is clearly as much a social issue as an emergency responder issue.

      • “It was frightening, but also really eye-opening, here was one of my close friends, clearly in distress, and I had totally missed it because we’re not trained to recognize mental illness, or when someone may need help, in our day-to-day lives.”

        Similar to you, I wouldn’t know a whit about mental illness if not for friends. Sometimes I forget that your average jane probably isn’t as versed in this sort of stuff, because the research I did was private. Thinking on it further, if I didn’t have personal reasons to educate myself, I probably wouldn’t have done it.

        Like you said, it would be easy to say “She’s doing this for attention, or it’s drugs, or whatever, it’s not personally affecting me.”

        I’d like to live in a world where mental health is treated similarly to physical health: If you saw someone collapse on your front lawn complaining of intense side pain, you don’t have to know enough about medicine to make a diagnosis (that’s not your job), but you would hopefully be comfortable enough to try to get help. If that same person was being held in your jail cell, you would hopefully make a call to see about transfer to a medical facility if the case looked severe, or at the very least *hold her until someone can come to pick her up.*

        Help the person who is in mental distress the same way you help someone in physical distress.

        of course, we encounter the problem: “We can’t hold every drug user, and people who are suffering from mental illness and drug users often look the same.” This becomes a question of time and resources, and I don’t pretend to have a solution for that.

        I apologize if this is becoming redundant.


    • Yes! This is something I also feel strongly about due to personal connections. And the thing a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that someone can even appear ‘normal’ and still have a mental illness of sorts. Like, not everyone with a mental disorder or in a mental hospital constantly bangs their head against a wall and needs to be tied up in a straight jacket. I feel like a lot of what we see of mental illness is just from the movies, and in many cases it’s not as extreme as it often seems to be portrayed. Like you, Maryann and elan, are saying we’re not trained to recognize mental illness. If it’s really obvious we see it but often times its more easily covered, because it’s INSIDE the head, not a physical ailment we can see. It’s just such a grey area and we can never truly understand how another person sees things, so treating/handling/dealing with these issues is so complicated, even to a trained professional who has been talking with someone for years. Sigh.

  6. Wow. I’m really glad that the policies themselves are getting reviewed, since if that’s what’s been happening with nighttime releases, it’s surprising to me that there aren’t *more* problems.

    Given lie detectors’ fallability, I’m not a fan of them, but since progress will only be possible if the police and sherrif’s departments admit the failings that led up to this point, something needs to happen. I can’t imagine the hell that Mitrice’s family has been through, and the fact that it might happen again is heartbreaking. And sickening.

  7. I knew OF this story but what I actually knew about it was very little. Having all the known details just makes it all the more devastating and frustrating. It’s outrageous that this sort of thing can, does and has happened. That being said, there is a sort of relief in knowing now. There’s always a kind of relief in finally finding a body, isn’t there? After this long?

    I mean. I don’t want to sound like a callous asshole. I don’t, do I? Because that’s not at all how my feelings feel. My feelings feel really sad about it.

    Thanks for this article, ladies. As awful as it is, I’m glad it’s here.

    • i am soo saddened to hear and see what happened to this gorgeous woman, with her whole life ahead of her. Absolutley heartbreaking, to say the least. For my 2 girls~~ i beg of you to BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS, AND TRY NOT TO BE ALONE ON THE STREETS!! I LOVE YOU!

  8. This is a really heartbreaking case and is the result of racism and negligence on the part of the police. It also is indicative of the stigma associated with mental illness. The brain is just another organ. If you have ulcers, it presents as stomach pain. If you have a neuro-chemical imbalance, it presents as a psychotic break.

    Though Wasteunit, seems to be very moral, but will you please stop making excuse for these cops and for the verifiable data that show racial bias, that has a greater probability of ending in violence at the hands of white cops– especially white male cops or security personnel- Oscar Grant.

    I would prefer justice over lawsuits any day.

    • I don’t think wasteunit is making any excuses for the officers involved. It seemed to me (shut me up if I’m wrong here, wasteunit) that she was just asking us not to make blanket statements about all law enforcement personnel (which I don’t believe AS did), particularly since she IS in law enforcement, and isn’t a racist asshole. Anecdotal, sure, but I’m pretty willing to believe her when she says not all cops are assholes.

      And then she talked about distinguishing between the Sheriff’s Dept. and the LAPD.

      Also, I dunno, she seems kind of morally dubious. It makes me want to buy her a smoothie. Want to get smoothies with me, wasteunit?. Serious about blended beverages, though. Always am.

      • Thank you, Maryann! Smoothies are always a yes.

        Valerie63, perhaps I was not clear enough earlier… I am not making excuses. It’s obvious that a lot of mistakes were made, or that poor woman wouldn’t have died. It makes me more angry than you can imagine that people who have sworn to “protect and serve” allowed this to happen. Of course there are terrible racist cops because there are terrible racist people in every occupation.

        I am particularly sensitive to the “fuck the police” mentality (I’m not saying AS has this) that a lot of liberal media jump to (oh god, that makes me sound like I’m a republican and I’m totally not you guys). Basically, my point is that I have the ability to hear the comments that are made to each other before, during, and after a call, and some of them have disgusted me. Others have completely inspired me, though.

        • Couldn’t the police have Baker Act-ed or Marchman Act-ed her? Or something like that? I don’t know much about this kind of thing, but I can’t help but think that there must be some type of mental health act that would have kept her locked up for at least 24 hours. Is it too tough to establish/prove the need for the act? Maybe she didn’t exhibit enough manic-ness to warrant a [insert name of mental health act]?

  9. There were brackets around that last paragraph, because apparently cheekiness doesn’t translate into HTML.

  10. This is completely devastating.. it’s the first i’ve heard of it and I’m just astonished. As as queer black woman I often have times where I think about my safety relative to others around me in my city and university, and it’s things like this that make me realize we really are in danger.

  11. my gf had a manic bipolar break and was arrested, her story is very similar except but the city that she was arrested in the police were really well educated about these things, and they did the right thing by taking her to the psych ward.. they did the right thing, in her case it definitely saved her life. it is really sad to read this story. i feel horrible for the family and friends of this woman.
    I am assuming that malibu is a pretty rich and lazy part of LA, those officers need training, i would think they should want to be good at what they do.

  12. This whole story makes me weep with frustration.

    I would type out a whole story about my mother’s undiagnosed mental illness, but I fear that I would not be able to articulate how deeply saddened I am by people’s ignorance and pride when encountering a situation they might know how to handle.

    The might-have-beens have kept me up more nights than I care to remember.

  13. This is a truly awful story, and the 1st time I’ve heard of it, and I work 3 miles from the Lost Hills station in Agoura Hills, CA. This is a very affluent area of Los Angeles County, and not to stereotype, but I do believe had this woman been white the course of action by all involved would have been different, not to mention the news coverage. Abhorrent.

  14. i had to take a few minutes to relax after reading this. it comes as absolutely no surprise to me though, reading these details. what, did every one think they actually care about people to the point of not being negligent, aloof bullies?

  15. Why didn’t you give up on writing articles about random celebrity crap to write more stories like this months ago?! Damn. (Riese, if this article is indicative of what the future looks like, I DO care about it.)

    • +1. This article is an example of exactly what I want to see pop up in my google reader every day. I mean, not really, because I wish the news was about kittens and double rainbows and not about death and discrimination. You know what I mean.

  16. I was horrified recently when I went to pick up my godson who was being released from Santa Rita jail (just outside Oakland, CA) and found out that people are released in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, with no public transit operating until morning. And to top it all off, they are not permitted to “loiter” on the property, even to wait for their family to arrive to pick them up once receiving the call about their release at 2am! Even from the totally bourgeois perspective of all those suburban people in the vicinity of the facility, you’d think they would be concerned about such outlandish arrangements. Everyone is vulnerable in such a situation–especially and tragically, the truly vulnerable like Mitrice. RIP.

    • Even though the Sheriff Station she was released from was in suburbia, and for all intents and purposes is a pretty safe area as far as crime…the mountains surrounding the area have very treacherous terrain as well as inhabited by wild animals such as mountain lions…I think letting anyone out in an unfamiliar place in the middle of the night with no means to get their bearings is irresponsible and unsafe no matter where the place is. Not to mention she was released in September…if she wandered in the hills during daylight house, the temps get to around 100 in that area…

  17. I just wanted to say that I remember reading this story in the LA Times when they found her body and they made absolutely no mention of her sexuality but talked about a whole lot of other things, which is really irritating.

    the way the system handles mental illness is so awful. as someone who is bipolar (luckily it’s fairly mild and under control) reading things like this is so terrifying.

  18. I work in mental health and what happened in this case is awful. American as a whole doesn’t deal with mental health well. And when cuts are being made mental health is one of the first to go. How authorities deal with mental health is something that I’m actually working on in my country. ahh I could go, go and on. But one thing I think we all need to keep in mind is a lot of these mental illnesses are onset in your late teens, and 20’s. When we see a friend acting a little strange or off, it’s important we don’t just push them out but talk to them, and get them some help. Also to have friends, be close open up helps. Learn about our self and how we are feeling.

  19. This story doesn’t surprise me at all, especially since it happened in Cali. Money and race play a big part in what kind of help you get from the police, and the justice system. If she had came from money and was white things would have been handled differently. I have seen it with my own eyes, it’s f’ed up but a reality. We know that not all cops are bad, but since I don’t have a bad cop detector I trust none until proven otherwise.

  20. I vote for a mental health roundtable from an LGBT perspective…since it seems like so many people here have friends, family members, roommates, or gf’s that have been forced to deal with something as scary as bi polar disorder. I am only familiar with it because my roommate has it and as careful/responsible as she is to keep it under control, it’s still terrifying to her when she has an episode.

    I think this is would be a great topic to discuss in more detail…maybe get the perspective of a crisis intervention worker, therapist, or other experts in the field as well as someone dealing with this personally and loved ones of people who have this.

    Just my two cents.

  21. Thanks for providing us with this, Reise and Sarah. This isn’t something I’d been folowing or heard about before (like you said, it was undercovered in news), but you provided explination of what happened. I could probably say a lot more about the content of this article, especially how despicable I find that incident with the mayor, but instead I have a question about the petition.

    Both “the cover-up” section of bringmatricehome.com and this petition emphasize the police’s failure to release tapes of an entrance or exit to the police station. I assumed the reason this was important was so they could see if she was exhibiting irresponsible or bipolar behaviors then — if she was, it would be further evidence that the police should have known was was going on and instead acted in neglegience. What the petition says, however, is that they need to prove she actually left. I’m confused as to what happened if she didn’t leave: it seems unlikely to me that the police directly harmed her (“If it’s not MURDER, Take the Lie Detector”) or were involved in more than the release (which is probably bad enough). Can someone explain the implications of the police not providing footage of the exit.

    I’d like to help in some way, possibly by signing the petition, but am confused about what it’s really saying.

  22. this is the first i’ve heard of mitrice (to be fair, i just came to autostraddle this year, and don’t really read magazines/watch tv/listen to radio, so i’m not really ‘in the loop’ as far as most news, unless somebody tells me). reading the accounts of everything that’s happened, all the miscommunications, all the seeming lack of effort, the problems, the questions, the frustrations, is all very soul-crushing. my heart absolutely breaks for her parents and friends and family.

    i hope they can learn the truth and gain closure, and peace, and honor mitrice’s memory by helping make some change where it’s needed the most. obviously there is a lot that doesn’t add up with this case, and a lot that needs to be discovered, revealed, brought out into the light, and the more i read the more it’s evident that it’s going to take time and effort to get all of that to happen. if it ever does. i would urge them to not give up, though.

  23. I am white. I am in San Diego. I have been released by police after midnight. I was followed by a man driving a truck and had to duck into an apartment complex before continuing home without being followed.

    In the case of Mitrice… why are we assuming she was mistreated because she is black? I am ready to believe it … believe me… but why arn’t I seeing what others are seeing here as far as her race goes… is there anything more than assumption going on? What makes us think this has something to do with her being black and gay… like I said I am white and straight and have been released at my own risk this way…

    • I said before if she was white and rich things would have happened diff. Especially after the fact that she went missing. This is where money also comes into play b/c money means power.

      Then you also have cops that just don’t give a sh@t, which imo happened in your case. Where i’m from they have someone pick you up from the station if your being released. That happened after they did something similar to what the cops did to you except this person didn’t make it home.

      As to why some people assume race played a part, #1: racism is still a problem in this country #2: Cali is famous for their racism especially when it involves the police #3: the lack of media coverage about this story #4: b/c of how the cops handled the situation.

  24. I’ve been following this case since early October.My heart goes out to Mitrice’s family and friends. I was so heartbroken to hear about her remains being found. I have several questions… I know the resturant owner said he had her arrested for her safety but why not ask her for her information (use her Drivers License).And tell her that if she doesn’t come back and pay for her meal then you’ll take legal action. Maybe when she called her grandmother the geofrey’s manager could ask her to have someone pick Mitrice up because all of the resturant staff are concerned about her safety. Maybe he should of went into detail to her family and the officers (explaining that she was acting crazy). Then why would she be released without her cellphone and purse. Wouldn’t someone ask her to take out her personal belongings out of the car before they tow it away. So that she if she is released she could have it !?!??!

  25. This whole thing pisses me off, and I can’t find the right words to say how I feel, and I know nothing about how this works in America, so I’m commenting to add one more response because this shit is important, folks.

  26. I, like a lot of people here, have personal experience with bi-polar, which is why it also makes it so frightening to me. My girlfriend was put on bipolar medication a few months ago. It’s not horribly extreme, although it was enough to have her dissociate for a few months, during which some very painful things happened that she barely remembers. What’s scary is the fact that we’re only 16 and have yet to enter into the age where this kind of stuff has a greater chance of happening. As sad as this is, it makes me really glad I talked to her mom and convinced her that her daughter really did need the therapy and meds, before it got out of hand.

  27. In the article you observe “…and she was found within 20 miles of the station.” While technically correct, this is highly misleading. Twenty miles from the Lost Hills Sheriff Station would place Mitrice well out into the Pacific Ocean.

    The Lost Hills Sheriff Station is located at 27050 Agoura Road, Agoura, Ca. The Sheriff’s crime scene was reportedly set up in the vicinity of 25500 Piuma Road, Malibu. Google Maps says that these locations are 5.5 miles apart using the roads she likely traveled. How did you come up with twenty? The news media has been widely reporting the distance as 20, 25, even 30 miles. What the hell?

    Your map shows the impound lot as being 22 miles from the Lost Hills Sheriff Station. Again, what the ? I couldn’t find the exact location on the map, but it looks to be close to 25500 Civic Center Way, Malibu. Google Maps indicates that this address is 9.9 driving miles from the Lost Hills Sheriff Station. How in the world did you come up with 22 miles?

    It looks to me like this poor confused girl was trying to make it down to PCH on foot to retrieve her car. She probably wandered off Piuma Road, which was running basically east to west and getting her no closer to her goal, into a canyon. The Sheriff has not indicated the exact location of her remains, but I’m betting they were at the bottom of an embankment where she probably fell and hit her head on a rock.

    Some have floated theories that the Sheriff’s department had some involvement in Mitrice’s death. Exaggerating the distances involved would play into this nonsense, suggesting that travel by automobile was involved. The facts do not seem to support this contention.

  28. I was not aware she was a lesbian but I speculated it.
    I was hoping she would be found ALIVE.
    At least her family can have SOME sense of peace.

  29. To the family of this beautiful young lady my heart and my prayers go out to you, that God will ease the pain of your heart and pain with closure to a very unjust act of neglect.. I am from Arkansas and I was checking my Facebook page and my cousin who is an open Lesbian and my uncle who has dealt with mental Illness for over 14 years, left a message saying that she hopes due to the fact that she is a lesbian she wondered if she would be remembered as just the lesbian. She is so much more and regardless of race, religion,mental capacity or sexuality life should be valued and treasured… Not discarded like week old trash because someone disagrees with how one lives… Wake up people this could have been you or one of your love ones…. God be with all of us on our daily journey on this earth…

  30. Wait, why is it the police’s fault? She was arrested because she didn’t pay her bill at the restaurant, and then she was released. After that, she died. Generally speaking, I can’t stand a lot of what the police do, but in this case, let’s bear in mind that it’s (thankfully) not the police’s job to babysit people. They have a responsibility to treat people lawfully while they are in custody, but beyond that, they don’t have any responsibility. Do I think they may have treated her differently if she was white? Quite possibly. Do I think the police are nothing more than a rogue street gang that is functionally “above the law”? Sadly, yes. But they still aren’t responsible for people who have been released from custody.

  31. Every single one of you needs this website – http://www.theyaremissed.org/ncma/index.php. I’ll explain more below.

    Here are my thoughts on what to do when someone who may or may not be ill goes missing.

    In March, I was involved in a very similar situation, but in NYC. The former intern of an acquaintance of mine had what I believe is a manic break (I am still sketchy on the details of her illness and what happened), was found in an alley, taken to the hospital, escaped, found, taken to the hospital again, escaped again, and then that’s where I came into it.

    Yes, she was white, pretty and young – and highly likely bipolar. She was not wealthy, and her parents were from out of state. They, on their own, had no contacts at all. What helped the most however was that my acquaintance has worked in the entertainment industry for awhile, and I have done a lot of political campaigning, we were able to utilize our contacts to help her. I’m not wealthy either, but boy do I have a big mouth!!

    What helped the most was actually Twitter and Facebook, because the average person DOES care. Because of the twitter campaign we got around her, when we contacted the newspapers, they were interested too because it became an actual story. Because of the noise we created around her, we were able to get a major national news channel to cover her disappearance. Yes, they came to us.

    I highly advocate that people make acquaintances with their local politicians and local media people, just in general. You never know when you might need them. I did not go into political campaigning thinking it would help save someone’s life one day. I did it because I wanted to be involved, but man oh man was it helpful being able to call up my Senator and say “I need your help.”

    And that’s the thing – people aren’t aware of the resources that they might need if someone goes missing. You are in panic mode and the thoughts all fly out of your head. At the time, I wasn’t aware of it, but after her disappearance her father and I looked into starting a non-profit to be a resource for missing people. We aren’t able to do it at this time. But the website mentioned above IS one of those resources to help people who have someone missing.

    Also, there are non profit printers who will help. Or, when you go to Kinko’s or Staples to make up the posters, make sure you tell them why you need them. People care. They really do. You just have to find them.

    Lesson over.

    I am beyond sorry for Mitrice Richardson’s family. I’ve been there and watched the fear in a family’s eyes when their child went missing. White, black, gay, straight, young, old – they are all someone’s loved one and it is imperative we begin to give a shit and get knowledgable about signs of mental illness. I challenge every single one of us on here to go read the symptoms of bipolar, schizophrenia, clinical depression and any other major illness I’m not thinking of. The more the lay population can recognize the signs of mental illness, the more we can advocate for those who might need that aid and make sure we stay on top of the elected officials and police to take care of it.

    My experience with many instances of law enforcement is typical of any job – many DO care, but you need to be the loud mouth and follow up to make sure they stay on your case. Yes, some are assholes, but I guarantee at least one person in every police station is actually caring, intelligent and involved. Find them.

    I’m sorry, I may have gone on a tangent, but I just want to help in my own way to make sure everyone has the tools to prevent this bullshit from happening in their lives or that of a stranger in need, like the girl I helped.

  32. this is sad. i wish the Lost Hill Station had followed her mother’s advice, or not let Mitrice out until daylight. This woman’s death could have been prevented

  33. As we approach three years since the disappearance and death of Mitrice Richardson, there are no reported leads and her investigation continues to be deemed a death investigation. The LASD has repeatedly stated that they believe that there is no foul play suspected in her case; however, this video recently sent to me indicates that the LASD had/has some suspicion that foul play may be indicated in her case. It may be that they wanted to hide this fact from the general public out of concern for the investigation; however, after three years I believe the public should not continue to be told that there is no suspicion of foul play. Please view the following video of an interview with someone who claims he was considered a suspect in her disappearance and death.


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