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The Sketchy Handling Of The Mitrice Richardson Case Is Under More Scrutiny

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The California Attorney General's office is opening up a criminal investigation into the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's handling of a case involving a young woman who vanished after being released from a remote sheriff's station, only to be found dead a year later.

Mitrice Richardson was 24 years old when she disappeared in 2009. She had been arrested for allegedly racking up a tab she couldn't pay at a Malibu restaurant, then released alone, with no personal belongings, in the middle of the night from the remote Lost Hills station in Agoura. Her body was found a year later in Dark Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. Her tragic death and mysterious disappearance were the subject of a documentary called Lost Compassion that recently screened at the Malibu Film Festival.

The Attorney General's office declined to review the case a mere three months ago, despite a 500-page request filed by Richardson's family and friends, writing in a letter that the request failed to show "a reasonable inference" that the Sheriff's Department had violated any laws. What inspired the reversal is unclear, as a spokesperson for the office told the L.A. Daily News that the office is unable to comment. However, it's worth mentioning that former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who defended the station in the case, pleaded guilty last week to one charge of lying to federal investigators during their investigation of corruption in the Sheriff's Department.

Ronda Hampton, a friend Richardson's family, said, "As for as the attorney general is concerned, I am trying to remain hopeful that their review of Mitrice Richardson’s handling by the Sheriff's Department is an earnest attempt to explain what happened to her so that she may rest in peace. My thoughts are always focused ensuring that her beautiful life was not in vain."

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The day Richardson was arrested, she dined alone at the pricy Geoffrey's in Malibu. She was behaving strangely, saying things to customers about messages from God and astrology. When it came time to cash out, she had racked up a $98 tab she couldn't pay and allegedly lit up a joint. The restaurant called police, and the manager later said he decided to press charges only because he felt like it wasn't safe for her to drive a car.

Richardson was taken to the Lost Hills station in Agoura and her car was impounded. While Richardson's mother was told that her daughter would be held overnight and that she could be picked up in the morning, Richardson was actually released that night. She had no car, no wallet, no phone, no money and only the clothes on her back. Her personal belongings were in the impounded car. She told police she was meeting friends, but that wasn't accurate. She went out into the night alone. She was possibly spotted walking through the backyard of a retired KTLA reporter's home, six miles away from the station in Monte Nido. He said a woman matching Richardson's description told him she was "just resting." He called police, but by the time they arrived she was gone.

A search of Richardson's car turned up her journals, which investigators said contained clues that she hadn't slept much in the days before her arrest and was possibly suffering from a bipolar episode.

Her body was found a year later in Dark Canyon, a remote part of the Santa Monica Mountains. There were a number of possible issues with the investigation. Her body was airlifted to the Lost Hills station against the recommendation of the coroner, and reports of how her body was found contradicted with photos taken at the scene. Richardson's mother believes that she didn't just wander off, but that she was murdered. Both she and Richardson's father—the pair are no longer together—received $450,000 each in a wrongful death suit filed against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Richardson's death has not been ruled a homicide, but the case remains open.

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