Authorities now not sure what happened to dead former officer
By Andre Coleman 07/17/2008
Homicide investigators with the LA County Sheriff’s Department are taking a second look into the death of retired Pasadena police Officer David Richter — a case that, although initially thought to be suicide, has already been at the center of an internal affairs investigation in Pasadena and caused at least one person to lash out anonymously against Pasadena police leadership.
Richter, 55, was found dead from what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the head on March 21 under a freeway overpass in Irwindale after going missing from his Arcadia home three months earlier.
Last week, Irwindale police officially sought the help of the Sheriff’s Department, said Sheriff’s Detective Joe Espino, who also said investigators are currently awaiting the results of an autopsy on Richter’s remains.
Irwindale police officials did not return phone calls for comment.
Richter, who retired in 2005, was last seen by a friend on Dec. 21. His father reported him missing on Dec. 27.
As authorities were searching for the 30-year veteran Pasadena officer, Richter’s girlfriend — Noah Beltran, who works as an assistant to acting Pasadena Police Chief Chris Vicino — was placed on paid administrative leave from the department in January for allegedly giving false information to police in Arcadia, where Richter lived.
Vicino, who would not comment on the case this week, has said Beltran was not considered a suspect in Richter’s disappearance. Beltran, who remains on leave, could not be reached for comment.
More recently, Beltran’s name resurfaced in an anonymous letter mailed to several newspapers on July 2 in which Vicino is accused of eliminating minorities from the department — and being “out to get” Beltran and manufacturing the internal investigation against her.
Vicino, who when contacted recently by this newspaper was aware that such a letter had also been sent to Pasadena City Council members and other officials, decried these claims as outright lies. “The letter is wholly fraudulent in [terms of] what is going in our department,” said Vicino. “In any large organization,” he continued, “there are going to be disgruntled employees, and I believe the letter is representative of that.”
The two-page typed letter claims intimate knowledge of the thoughts of some Pasadena police officers. In reference to Beltran: “We’re not saying she didn’t do something that warranted time off, but Chief Vicino didn’t like her from when she worked directly for [former Deputy Chief Wayne] Hiltz.
Chief Vicino wanted her gone and has demanded that the investigation be conducted in such a way that she will be fired. Employees within the department are talking about this unfair investigation and know that Noah is being railroaded out of the department because of his dislike for her,” the letter charges.
The letter further alleges that Vicino “has a list of people he intends to go after. He has already started rumors that some top rank minority employees need to be removed.”
Beltran is Filipina.
Meanwhile, release of the autopsy report on Richter’s death and any statement of its cause have been put on hold, said LA County Chief Coroner Investigator Craig Harvey.
According to an earlier conversation with one coroner’s office employee who did not wish to be named, among the factors that may have led authorities to reopen the case was that a gun found near Richter’s body appeared to have been fired four times, and one bullet remained in the weapon.
Investigators wouldn’t say if four shell casings were also found near the body, or if shots had been expended prior to the incident that killed Richter. Harvey said that ballistics tests on a single bullet removed from Richter are pending.
Bloodhounds deployed during the search for Richter had led investigators to a body of water in Irwindale close to where his body would later be found by Caltrans workers and near where police discovered his abandoned 2007 Lexus RX 350.
The Pasadena Weekly reported in February that statements made to police by friends that Richter was unhappy over the progress of a home he was building had led Arcadia police to conclude before his body was found that Richter had either killed himself or abandoned his local life for parts unknown.
Neither Arcadia nor Pasadena police would describe the false information that Beltran allegedly told investigators.
Before Richter’s body was found, Arcadia police Sgt. Dean Caputo said of Beltran, “We talked to her, obviously. We had an interview with her, and as far we are concerned that is the end of it at this point. She had some information and we got that.”
Police in Arcadia did not suspect foul play at that time.
“We went back and forth and turned up the volume and treated it more like it was suspicious, but the more we look at it and talk to people about his disposition, I think either he did it by choice or committed suicide,” Caputo said in February.
“It saddens the department greatly to find out this matter may turn into a homicide investigation,” said Vicino. “While that remains to be seen, it really stirs the department emotionally that one of our own may have died at the hands of another. We are hoping for a speedy outcome and are offering any resources we have to Irwindale and the Sheriff’s Department.”