Baca calls Richardson death a tragedy but stands silent on calls for federal intervention
By Justin Chapman 12/16/2010
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca called the death of 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson “one of the greatest tragedies you and I will ever hear of,” but he declined to say whether a federal investigation is necessary.
Baca appeared in Compton on Dec. 6 at a gathering organized on behalf of Michael Richardson, father of the woman who went missing after being released from the sheriff’s Malibu/Lost Hills Station without a car, funds or phone shortly after midnight Sept. 17, 2009. Her skeletal remains were located in August, less than 10 miles from the sheriff’s station on a pot farm adjacent to porn photographer Suze Randall’s property, where screams were reportedly heard four days after Mitrice disappeared, according to a story based on reports by area residents to homicide detectives that appeared in the Malibu Surfside News.
The aim of the meeting sponsored by the National Association of Equal Justice was to convince Baca to call on the US Justice Department and the FBI to investigate the case.
The Sheriff’s Department came under more criticism shortly after moving the woman’s remains without approval of the county Department of Coroner. The Sheriff’s Department and the coroner have opened a joint investigation to determine whether deputies mishandled the remains.
Although Baca did not respond to pleas to have federal authorities investigate, or speak specifically about the department’s handling of the Richardson case, on Dec. 8, while appearing with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck before a live radio audience at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, he openly admitted that deputies in general have made errors in terms of how they regard the rights of suspects and others they come into contact with.
“Twenty-first century policing is not just about technology,” Baca said. “It’s about addressing violations of the Bill of Rights, First Amendment rights and human rights. Officers have made errors in terms of what they thought their roles were. We need to revamp the department.”
Since the woman’s death, both her father and her mother, Latice Sutton, have filed lawsuits against the county and the department, alleging negligence and wrongful death.
“Releasing people from police custody after midnight without necessary resources puts them at risk, especially those who might be having a mental breakdown. It seems inhumane,” said Shirley Spencer of The Friends Group of Pasadena, which has been calling for reform of the sheriff’s nighttime release policy. Spencer attended the forum in Pasadena with fellow Friends member Gerda Govine-Ituarte.
“Certainly, if an inmate has needs that are not adult-like needs and have challenges or problems that we aren’t aware of, the vulnerability goes up,” Baca said. Family members have said Mitrice was bi-polar. “But I think what’s important is that the community be a part of the solution and not expect the institution to fix the problem.”
For more on the Richardson case, visit http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/a_bizarre_and_tragic_end/9123/