The Mysterious Case of Mitrice Richardson Missing

BlogHer Original Post

While cruising a blog last Friday I heard about the case of Mitrice Richardson, the missing 24-year-old black woman from South Los Angeles who was arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on Sept. 16 for not paying a $89.21 restaurant bill in upscale Malibu. After her arrest, she was released at 1:25 in the morning without her cell phone or her purse and no transportation because the police had impounded her 1990 Honda Civic in which they say she had less than an ounce of marijuana. Her purse and cell phone were in the car with her identification, according to her family, but the police say she had identification. After that, she vanished. With the exception of a few sightings here and there, the 5 ft 5 young woman just disappeared. (Photo from FindMitrice.info.)

I read this story at Field Negro and my comment was simply, "God, this story is horrible!" That's how I get when something really upsets me. I don't know exactly what to say. I go numb, dumb and mute.

This story has so many layers that indicate the police don't always protect and serve. It reminds me how black women are not seen as people to protect, that sometimes not only do the cases of missing black women seem to get less attention from law enforcement and the media but so do their murders. While it appears Mitrice's case is getting more attention than the average missing black woman case receives--perhaps because the police may be culpable should she come to physical harm--I can't help but wonder if this slender woman had been white and blonde, had resembled one of those police officers' daughters or wives, would they have taken better care to protect her? Would they have realized that it would have been better to find some excuse to keep her in the cell than to send her out onto canyon roads with nothing in the wee hours of morning, alone into the dark?

And yet something in me says that had these officers been people of color Mitrice may still have been released to nothingness. It's that image of strong black woman thing, Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman" coming at you from the Twilight Zone. This idea that black women are like strong males, we can pull a plow or fight anything, even wee hour darkness with no phone, the chill of a dark canyon alone with no blanket, coyotes maybe or worse--we can fight a stranger who does not know we too have mothers and fathers who love us.

Another layer: This is not just me as a black woman speaking, wondering about Mitrice and weeping for her, it's me as a mother screaming something is terribly wrong with how Mitrice was handled. As I read the opening of one article on her story by Carla Hall at the L.A. Times, my eyes fill with tears.

Mitrice Richardson is afraid of the dark and always has been, says her mother, Latice Sutton, who remembers that quirk when she thinks about her daughter's release from a jail cell at a Los Angeles County sheriff's substation in Calabasas in the predawn hours of Sept. 17.

Wearing jeans and a dark T-shirt, Richardson, 24, had no car, no cellphone and no purse as she left the station about 1:25 a.m. The nearest Starbucks and fast-food restaurants are about a mile away in a shopping area. Beyond them stretches Las Virgenes Road, which turns into Malibu Canyon Road, winding through Malibu Canyon and emptying onto Pacific Coast Highway near Pepperdine University.

I have a daughter too, one only four years older than Mitrice. She's not afraid of the dark. In fact she walks fearless on the earth like an Amazon warrior, and my fear for her is that she is too sure of herself, not streetwise enough, not as observant as she should be.

I don't want my daughter to be fearful, but I do wish she'd be a little more cautious, and yes, I think, what happened to Mitrice could happen to her. In fact, she walked absent-mindedly out of a restaurant a few months ago after dinner with a group. When the valet went into the restaurant for her to tell her I was waiting outside, she became a little flustered, left and realized after we'd been driving a few minutes that she hadn't paid her bill. I called the restaurant immediately, and they checked. It turned out a young man in her group had paid for her, but the restaurant manager thanked me for calling to check.

She was just a little flustered and can be more than a little absent-minded, but what if she had been alone, without a group; what if she had experienced some kind of inexplicable mental collapse and wandered into a restaurant alone? Would anybody have tried to help her? What would happen if someone called the police?

It could happen to anyone's daughter because Mitrice's family declares the night of September 17, nothing reported to them about Mitrice's behavior sounds like Mitrice. She was behaving "out of character," they maintain.

And before you point a finger saying the police report that she had marijuana in her car, consider that even she did, even if she were a known user, would sending a young woman out into the night be acceptable? Would it have even made sense to release a young man into the dark with nothing--no money, no phone, and no ride because you impounded his car. It's almost as if the police wanted another crime to investigate.

It appears that Mitrice was showing signs of a psychotic break. It could be she was high, but again, why release a person who you think is under the influence of a drug or alcohol into the night with nothing?

News stories report that before her arrest Mitrice showed up at the Geoffrey's Malibu restaurant Thursday, Sept. 17, around 7:00 p.m. behaving strangely. You may read the account of her behavior at Anderson Cooper's CNN blog.

And another layer:

Jeff Peterson, the restaurant’s owner, said her erratic behavior was noticed by customers and employees. “There was something a little strange about her,” he told CNN. “She wasn’t mentally ill, not ranting or raving. You couldn’t put your finger on it.” (AC 360)

First, Mr. Peterson is a restaurant owner, he can't be expected to diagnose mental illness. Nevertheless, I noticed he has a preconceived notion of what mental illness looks like, someone "ranting or raving." Mitrice, according to reports, showed bizarre behavior like "sitting down with a table of six (a group of strangers) and engaging them in conversation."

Second, what do you do if you encounter someone who may strike you as "a little strange," out of touch with reality? Is calling the police the best choice? The truth is, other than the person's family, the police may be your only choice, and the police aren't necessarily trained to diagnose and deal with the mentally ill. Police are trained to deal with people who commit crimes.

Why the restaurant owner couldn't wait for someone from her family to show up, I don't know. I could speculate about how he may have wanted to get this strange young black woman away from his upscale restaurant as soon as possible, but I won't. All I know is that a young woman who was apparently in some type of mental distress was handed over to people who did not have her best interest at heart. Perhaps it says something about how we in America view those who are possibly mentally ill, a lack of resources, treatment facilities, and civil procedures.

I'm spending a little time here with the notion that Mitrice may have been showing signs of mental illness rather than drug abuse because the FindMitrice.info site declares, "She suffers from mental issues." And as I've said in other posts, such as the one on the Revelus tragedy, this country is facing a crisis in lack of funding to properly diagnose and treat mental illness. In fact, a diagnosis of mental illness in your health records may jeopardize your receiving health care insurance should you ever have to apply for private insurance on your own.

The restaurant owner says he called the police because he was concerned for Mitrice's safety, that after eating a Kobe steak dinner she refused to pay, but he was more concerned that she might get in her car and drive under the influence of something he didn't understand. Her family says her refusal to pay is also strange because she had at least $2000 in her bank account.

She called her great-grandmother who offered to pay the bill using her credit card over the phone. According to news stories, the restaurant said it couldn't accept the payment unless the older woman could fax them a copy of her signature. How many women in their 60s or 70s have fax machines at home?

Mitrice is a college graduate and an executive assistant who lives with her grandmother. Her family says that members began getting strange text messages from her on September 16. Some stories regarding her behavior in the restaurant indicate she may have been hearing voices.

Whatever the restaurant owner may have told the police, it's clear that the police did not treat her as someone who deserved their protection. They treated her as a criminal, and claim they released her into the night because there was no room in the jail. Her family disputes the claim of no room. From MSNBC:

... Michael Richardson said deputies told him they were not running a baby-sitting service. He told Lauer he was also told that there was no room to keep her at the jail, but the father said he checked police records and discovered that there was only one other prisoner at the jail that day between 1:30 a.m. and that afternoon.

“It’s all inconsistencies,” Michael Richardson told Lauer. “I’ve talked to them several times.” He said he was first told that deputies told his daughter she could sleep in the lobby. Then, he said, he was told she was offered a bed in a cell. Then he says he was told about the alleged overcrowding.

Richardson’s parents and attorney say they have not been able to obtain police reports on the arrest.

Police deny any wrongdoing. A sheriff’s department spokesman declined to go on the air, but told NBC News that Mitrice Richardson is an adult, and there was no reason to keep her in custody after charging her because she showed no signs of being intoxicated. (MSNBC)

From Anderson Cooper's 360 Blog:

Lattice Sutton said she told the officers that she would be there around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. to pick up her daughter. But she said when she called again to check on her, she was told Richardson was already released. (Anderson Cooper's 360 blog)

The L.A. Times update on the search which has turned up nothing:

Later, about 6:30 a.m., a homeowner in the Malibu Canyon area called to say a woman was resting in the backyard. When deputies arrived, she was gone. Whitmore said the department is almost certain it was Richardson.

On Saturday afternoon, as her friends stood on Pacific Coast Highway, holding up fliers featuring the missing woman's face, sympathetic passersby stopped to chat with Sutton. One even offered a clue.

"I think I may have seen her walking," said middle school teacher Janette Goeglein.

About 7:30 a.m. Sept. 17, Goeglein said she was driving to a meeting when she saw a woman walking south on the road through Malibu Canyon. "I thought it's strange to see a black woman walking in the canyon," she said.

This is a horrible story, and the police say they did nothing wrong.

Additional Info

  • JasmyneCannick.com reports that tonight, Oct. 1., the family's attorney will air communication tapes obtained from the Lost Hill Sheriff’s Department on 790 KABC between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. PST.
  • This Black Sista suggests the signature on Mitrice's release paper does not appear to match Mitrice's handwriting.
  • Monie on the Outside reports that the L.A. County board of supervisors is offering a $10,000 reward for information about Mitrice's disappearance.
  • HipHop Crunch has MSNBC video and a quote from Mitrice's mother that Mitrice is "not street savvy."
  • According to news sources, Mitrice has also competed in beauty pageants. Some bloggers have linked to a MySpace page. It is not known if Mitrice put this page up herself.

Nordette Adams is a BlogHer.CE. You will find links to her other writing at Her411. This post is cross-posted in draft at WSATA.

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