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Arts and Entertainment

Doc Explores Mitrice Richardson's Suspicious Death After Malibu Arrest

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A new documentary will delve into the mysterious death of Mitrice Richardson, who was found dead in Malibu Hills in 2010 after disappearing in 2009.

Lost Compassion, directed by Charles Croft and Chip Croft, explores the case of Richardson, a young woman who disappeared after she was released from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Malibu/Lost Hills Station at 27050 Agoura Rd. in Agoura, and whose body was found a year later in a remote area known as Dark Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The case remains open, according to the L.A. Daily News. L.A. County Sheriff's Cmdr. Rod Kusch said in an email to the outlet that former leads have been exhausted, but that "any new leads will be pursued when they are received by the Sheriff's Department. It is a death investigation at this time, as the coroner's office has not ruled it a homicide." Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton, believes her daughter was murdered. The tagline for the film is, "Someone knows."

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Richardson was 24 years old when she disappeared in September of 2009, according to reporter Mike Kessler, who dove deep into the case for Los Angeles Magazine in 2011. She was sent to jail for allegedly refusing to pay her bill at a restaurant in Malibu. Though she was behaving strangely, she was not held by police for a psychological evaluation. Instead, she was released alone that same night, after midnight, into the remote area surrounding the Lost Hills station. She did not have any money, her car had been impounded, and she did not have her phone. After she was released, she simply disappeared.

In August of 2010, as rangers were looking for marijuana farms, they found Richardson's body in Dark Canyon, partially decomposed and nude. Her body was found less than eight miles from the station.

Richardson had grown up in Covina and East L.A. with her mom and stepfather. She majored in psychology at Cal State Fullerton and graduated in 2008. She worked at a shipping company in Santa Fe Springs and as a go-go dancer at a gay bar in Long Beach on Friday nights.

She was behaving strangely the night she disappeared and in the days leading up to it, leaving strange messages for family members on social media. She took off after lunch from her job at the freight company and wound up at Geoffrey’s, an expensive restaurant in Malibu, later that day. The valet attendant, staff and other diners reported that she was behaving in a bizarre manner, saying strange things to them about astrology, Michael Jackson's death and messages from God, who supposedly told her to take the day off. She also racked up a $98 tab she couldn't pay. She pulled out a joint while talking to the manager about settling her bill. The restaurant called the cops, telling them they had a customer who wouldn't pay her bill and who was possibly on drugs. Though employees contemplated paying her bill, the manager said he decided to press charges because he felt like she wasn't safe to drive a car or be by herself based on her behavior.

Richardson was taken to jail, to the Lost Hills station in a remote part of Agoura. A search of her car turned up her driver's license, but authorities didn't report finding her wallet, cell phone or any money. Police impounded the car.

Sutton said deputies indicated her daughter would be held overnight. So, she elected to stay home with her younger daughter until the morning. Recordings of Sutton talking to police reveal she was concerned about her daughter's safety—in particular, that she wouldn't be released into the night alone. However, the police decided not to hold her for a psychological evaluation and decided to release her that night instead.

Logbooks show that she attempted to call her 90-year-old great-grandmother four times, though her great-grandmother said that her phone did not ring. Officers said they heard Richardson having a conversation with someone, but it's unclear if she was talking to herself as the pay phone's recording function was broken.

Richardson's jailer, Sheron Cummings, was aware that Richardson's car had been impounded and that she had no personal belongings, but also said that Richardson claimed she was meeting friends and didn't want to stay in the lobby. So, Richardson simply left the station, alone.

A retired KTLA reporter told police that he spotted a slender black woman walking through his backyard in Monte Nido, six miles from the Lost Hills station. He said she told him she was "just resting." By the time police arrived at the home, the woman was gone.

The LAPD began looking for Richardson two days after she was released from jail, but did not hike into Dark Canyon. They concluded based on journals found in her car that she hadn't slept much in the days before her arrest and was possibly suffering from a bipolar episode. They also located the wallet and phone they didn't find before.

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Footage from the station shows Richardson leaving and another deputy leaving about two minutes later. It's unclear if the two interacted, though that deputy later told Kessler that he was minding his own business that night.

When Richardson's body was found, L.A. County Sheriff's detectives, against the recommendation of L.A. County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter, air-lifted the remains to the Lost Hills station. This goes against a code that states that a body can't be disturbed or moved without permission from the coroner. The reports of how her body was found contradict the photos of the scene, and though Richardson's death was not investigated as a homicide, her mother believes she was killed.

For one, Richardson's leg was found two yards away from her body with the femur removed, but there were no signs that animals had done it. It also seems unlikely that animals would have been able to remove Richardson's clothing, as authorities suggested. Animals would have had to unhook her bra and unbuckle her belt, then carry the clothing items to where they were found—500 to 600 feet away from the body. Some of her clothes were never found and those that were found were never sent to a crime lab to be examined for evidence.

Richardson's mother and father, who are not together at this time, each filed wrongful death suits against the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. L.A. County awarded each $450,000 in 2011.

Ronda Hampton, a friend of Richardson's family and a clinical psychologist, told the Daily News that she believes that some people in the department were negligent and are covering something up.

"I want justice, whatever that would mean. It's not likely she killed herself. It's more likely someone killed her. People don't murder once, not in the way she was murdered."

Lost Compassion will screen during the Malibu International Film Festival on Thursday, Dec. 3 at Regal Cinemas Malibu Twin at 3822 Cross Creek Rd. in Malibu at 7 p.m. Tickets are free with RSVP.

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