It has been two months since, Mitrice Richardson, a 24-year old African-American lesbian, was last seen being released from the Malibu/Lost Hills police station. The Los Angeles Times reports that despite media attention in the local and national news and even a cover story in People, the trail has gone cold with clues. On December 2, the Richardson family requested that Congresswoman Maxine Waters launch a federal investigation in Mitrice’s disappearance.
The request is the latest effort by the family to find Richardson, whose disappearance has garnered much attention, including segments on cable TV news shows and a cover story in People magazine.
The trail has gone cold since late October, when the family said there were sightings of Richardson in South Los Angeles.
By all accounts, the Cal State Fullerton graduate who was living in South L.A. was responsible, employed and working on a way to pay for graduate school. Detectives, family and friends believe her disappearance is probably related to a psychological problem that surfaced the night of Sept. 16 when Richardson went to Geoffrey's restaurant in Malibu, told people she was from Mars and began spouting gibberish.
Richardson's odd behavior -- as well as her failure to pay for a steak and a drink -- prompted restaurant staff members to call sheriff's deputies. Richardson was arrested, then released at 1:25 a.m., having no car, purse or cellphone.
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department has since come under fire for not holding her for a psychological evaluation. The Los Angeles Police Department is handling the matter as a missing-person case, assigning it to the robbery-homicide division, which has greater resources.
Questions have been raised publicly about why the police released Richardson despite her apparent mental state and without her purse, wallet and any identification. An editorial published in The Los Angeles Times, discusses this issue in depth:
Deputies at the station had declared her safe to go because she didn't appear to be a threat to herself or anyone else. Nevertheless, the fact remains that she was 40 miles from home in the dead of night with no purse, cash or cell phone, no buses available for hours, and her car locked in a garage she couldn't pay.
If that's following procedures to the letter, something's wrong with the procedures. Even if deputies acted as reasonably as Baca asserts, the implication is that the department's responsibility to "safely" release people it takes into custody ends the moment they leave its property.
That's certainly a pragmatic stance. As Baca’s report to the Board of Supervisors notes, deputies process 180,000 prisoners a year for release -- that's nearly 500 a day -- and detaining someone for too long carries "tremendous liability." Special steps are taken only for those "deemed to have medical or mental disabilities." But as Richardson's disappearance demonstrates, the department's blithe lack of concern about people after they walk out the door may be creating new and unnecessary dangers.
The Sheriff's Department can't be a taxi service, and the people it arrests have to be responsible for their own welfare once they're released. Yet the department shouldn't ignore the difficulties imposed on those it hauls off for booking. Policymakers should explore ways to ensure that people booked after hours with no way to get home, like Richardson, have options -- for example, a shuttle to a public transportation hub or easy access to their car. In limited cases, such as when witnesses see signs of mental illness, it may even be wise to hold suspects until morning. A few extra hours of inconvenience is a reasonable trade-off for avoiding tragedy.
Her family has created a blog, Bring Mitrise Richardson Home, which provides up-to-date news, links to other media covering her disappearance and YouTube videos of vigils and other related events.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to Richardson’s whereabouts. Anyone with information is asked to call (213) 485-2531.
MITRICE RICHARDSON ~ Date of Birth ~ April 30, 1985
EYES: Hazel brown
HAIR: Medium brown (natural/curly)
TATTOOS: Lower abdomen, and behind neck
Last wearing: Brown Bob Marley T-shirt & Blue Jeans.
GLAAD will continue to follow the story and provide updates.