The investigation by the County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review (OIR) concludes there were mistakes during the recovery of the remains of 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson. Her bones were found in a ravine in Malibu Canyon nearly a year after she disappeared from the sheriff's station in Lost Hills.
Mitrice Richardson, a Cal State Fullerton psychology graduate, vanished in Malibu Hills Sept. 17, 2009, after she was released from the Sheriff's Malibu/Lost Hills substation without identification, cellphone or car. Richardson had been arrested for erratic behavior, marijuana possession and not paying her bill at Geoffreys Malibu restaurant. An 11-month-long search for her began.
"It was unclear who in the coroner's office was actually making the decision or giving the authorization about what the coroner wanted to do. That was certainly an issue," said OIR Chief Attorney Michael Gennaco.
It became an issue because bones were removed from the location without a clear directive to do so. And it turns out a full skeleton was found in the ravine, not just a few bones, as was originally believed.
"What still remains in dispute today is whether in fact another phone call was made to the coroner's official indicating that they had more bones than they originally thought," said Gennaco.
Mitrice Richardson was an intern for therapist Ronda Hampton. Hampton questions why the bones were removed before the investigation was complete.
"If people who were properly trained to remove a body, if those people were out there and doing their job the way they were supposed to do it, would we be in a different place? I believe it's possible," said Hampton.
"This young lady should not have been brought to the sheriff's station in the first place. And if she ultimately was put in a place that she was totally unfamiliar with," said L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca at Wednesday's news conference.
Baca has instituted a number of changes, including requiring better communications with coroner's investigators. And he wants a sheriff's substation built along the coast so suspects aren't driven so far.
The investigation found no evidence of foul play. No one has come forward with information as to how she got miles away from the sheriff's station on her own.
"Was the death of Mitrice Richardson the result of an accident, in terms of being lost, or is it the result of somebody else?" asked Baca. "And I'm still looking for answers on this."
"Someone needs to take the responsibility for what happened to my niece, period," said Lauren Sutton, Mitrice's aunt. "I don't think it's OK to say 'No one is at fault.'"
Mitrice's parents are separated. They received a joint settlement from the sheriff's department of $900,000. Mitrice's father, Michael Richardson, said about half the money went to attorneys.