Just as puzzling as recent claims that a Los Angeles woman who has been missing for nearly a year is living as a prostitute in Las Vegas are the details about the case that are not being mentioned in any coverage of her disappearance.
For instance, no mention of the racist and sexually graphic graffiti found near one of the last known places 25-year-old Mitrice Richardson was seen before disappearing on the morning of Sept. 17 has been made in the Los Angeles Times or any other news outlet covering the case, except CNN and the Malibu Surfside News. The graffiti was located in an isolated area about seven miles from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, where Richardson was being held for allegedly skipping out on a bill at a local restaurant. Sheriff’s officials released her from custody at around 12:35 a.m. without a phone or a way home to LA.
Nor do other news agencies mention that the very last place Richardson might have been seen was near the backyard of former Channel 5 newsman Bill Smith, who lives in Calabasas, about 12 miles from the station. Smith, who reported seeing an African-American woman on his property at around 6:30 a.m. Sept. 17, is identified in the Times story only as a local “homeowner.”
Another recent development involves LAPD Capt. Kevin McClure, who spoke at the press conference last Thursday announcing a possible sighting of Richardson in Las Vegas. His daughter and Richardson’s younger half-sister play on the same softball team, and according to Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton, McClure, the president of the La Verne Girls Softball Association, tried to get her daughter kicked off the team. Sutton had no idea McClure was working on the case until she saw him on TV at the press conference. McClure did not respond to requests for comment.
But the latest publicly known twist to this already strange story is how it is now being framed by authorities and the media, said Shirley Spencer, a longtime Pasadena activist and treasurer of the Friend’s Group, which is working to reform the sheriff’s inmate release procedures.
Even the national media is now reporting not on a woman who is missing, but a woman who doesn’t want to be found, Spencer said of Richardson, a standout graduate of Cal State Fullerton and an aspiring psychiatrist who suffers from bipolar disorder. The media is portraying Richardson as doing as good a job as possible of staying away — all while never once calling loved ones, and leaving credit cards unused and about $2,000 in savings untouched, said Spencer. The city of Malibu has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the woman’s whereabouts, and the county Board of Supervisors has put up $15,000, but no one has claimed the money.
The authorities, Spencer said, “have portrayed the situation in a way that puts the blame on Mitrice, saying, ‘Look, she could be out here in Vegas prostituting or something.’ All this craziness could have been avoided. The issue is still the sheriff’s after-midnight release policy.”
Now, according to the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department and Las Vegas officials, Richardson may be a prostitute — a hunch authorities have based on sightings by her father Michael Richardson and Greg Amerson, a childhood friend of Mitrice Richardson’s who claims to have seen her in June at the Rio Hotel and Casino.
“It’s completely flipped around,” Spencer said of the story that’s now being broadcast about the case. Since the disappearance, Sutton has filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department, alleging wrongful death and negligence for releasing Richardson in the dead of night. Through the process of discovery, the “magical lawsuit,” as her attorney Leo Terrell calls it, will give Terrell and Sutton access to videotapes and documents that are currently being withheld by the Sheriff’s Department. Terrell also plans to depose all of the deputies who were on duty at the station that night.
“The story has been spun completely away from what the mother has been trying to accomplish,” Spencer said of the lawsuit filed by Sutton. “Now, instead of searching for a missing daughter, Mitrice is supposedly in Las Vegas and she has chosen not to be found. This is a totally different spin.”
Gerda Govine-Ituarte, chair of the Friend’s Group, said Sutton is living a nightmare.
“Now Latice is worried for her younger daughter,” the one who is being targeted for expulsion from the softball league, “in an environment that is stressful and has been ratcheted up by the conflict of interest involving Kevin McClure,” Govine-Ituarte said. “Latice mentioned that the softball team parents are supportive of her daughter, but she’s still concerned. Whether or not he’s pulled off the case is up to the LAPD, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anything’s going to happen. What Latice is going through I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
Two weeks ago, the Weekly reported on the father’s side of the case. But during two interviews, Michael Richardson never disclosed that he had seen his daughter in Downtown Las Vegas in January. The Weekly also reported that LAPD detectives asked Michael Richardson for DNA samples, which he refused to provide. A few days after criticizing Sutton for filing a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department, the father’s attorney filed a suit on his behalf, also alleging negligence on the part of the Sheriff’s Department.
Currently, LAPD and Sheriff’s Department officials say they are putting all they can into finding Mitrice, with 10 to 20 officers and deputies working with Las Vegas authorities to track her down.
“This is the first lead in the 10 months that we have been doing this that we are unable to show that it is not a good lead,” McClure said at the press conference in Las Vegas, referring to Amerson’s sighting of Richardson. “It is not a verified sighting of her here, but we feel good enough to come up here and spend a good deal of time to get that information out to the community — that we believe she may be here.”
McClure told reporters that more than 70 waitresses, bartenders, security officers and others in both Nevada and California have reported possible sightings of Mitrice.
Her father told authorities that he also saw a woman in Las Vegas resembling Mitrice in Downtown Las Vegas in January. He said he raced through traffic to reach her, but she disappeared into the crowd.
“And she was actually sighted by somebody who actually knew her and had had a personal relationship with her, and that individual is very confident that the person he approached in the Rio hotel, that it was Mitrice Richardson,” McClure said, referring to Amerson, who once took Mitrice to a high school formal.
Sutton hopes her daughter is still alive but does not believe she is in Las Vegas. Nor does she believe the sighting of Mitrice by Amerson is credible, primarily because he has not seen her in more than nine years. Contrary to statements by law enforcement officials during the Las Vegas press conference, Mitrice did not grow up with or spend any significant time with Amerson, according to a press release issued recently by Sutton.
“It is very curious to me why law enforcement officials would pursue this witness as a ‘credible lead’ and conduct a massive search effort at this time, but not pursue the lead from Mitrice’s biological father with the same tenacity and credibility when Michael reported he saw someone who he believed to be Mitrice back in late January,” wrote Sutton. “Why do law enforcement officials want so desperately for the public to believe my daughter is living in Las Vegas? I want my daughter home, not used as a PR pawn for certain law enforcement agencies.”
Sutton believes a massive search should be concentrated in the area where she went missing, not in Las Vegas. She has told authorities that if they believe Mitrice is in Las Vegas, the FBI should get involved because Mitrice is now considered critically missing and has ostensibly crossed state lines, making it a federal concern. LAPD and sheriff’s officials disagree.
In May, Congresswoman Maxine Waters requested that the US Department of Justice investigate whether Mitrice’s civil rights were violated when she was released. Waters also sent a letter to the FBI in December requesting a similar investigation.
Mitrice was exhibiting bizarre behavior at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu, but she passed a field sobriety test at the time of her arrest. Both parents believe she was experiencing a major mental breakdown when she was released in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar area without resources or transportation. Mitrice’s parents believe she should have undergone a psychiatric evaluation before being released, but the Sheriff’s Department maintains that she was acting rationally and that they were required by law to release her in a timely manner.
“She decided on her own that she’d leave in the middle of the night,” said McClure at the press conference in Las Vegas.
Sutton, however, said she personally witnessed the booking video of her daughter, which the Sheriff’s Department has since refused to release. Based n what she saw, Sutton said Mitrice was clearly not in a proper state of mind to be released. Sutton said the tape also showed a uniformed deputy follow Mitrice out the same door when she was released.
At the press conference, McClure acknowledged the “very tense relationship” between Mitrice’s family and LA investigators, and accused her family of “ridiculing” the LA law enforcement agencies.
According to Sutton, after KTLA reporter Bill Smith called the Sheriff’s Department to report a woman fitting Mitrice’s description sitting on his back steps, trained dogs followed Mitrice’s scent down the street from Smith’s house, where it suddenly vanished. A search party combing that area found murals depicting African-American women resembling Mitrice in several degrading sexual situations.
“I don’t think law enforcement’s efforts in Vegas are diversionary, because every lead should be followed up,” said Govine-Ituarte. “But just because they follow one lead doesn’t mean they should stop following the other leads. The last time Mitrice was seen was leaving the sheriff’s station and possibly in Smith’s backyard. When they whitewashed the graffiti, it told me they just don’t want to deal with the situation. It’s a real disservice and the support that Latice should be getting on a consistent basis from the authorities is missing in action. She has been disrespected at various times by the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department. Mitrice’s release was totally inhumane. When you look at the scope of the law enforcement official’s efforts, they’ve fallen short.”