— First the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released a 24-year-old woman into the night from a remote substation. Now, they’re trying to find her as the parents of Mitrice Richardson ratchet up their charges that authorities never should have let her go to begin with.
“Mitrice is not street savvy,” her mother, Latice Sutton, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Friday from Los Angeles, more than a week after her daughter, a college graduate and former beauty pageant contestant, disappeared. “Mitrice has had a pretty sheltered upbringing.”
There have been few leads in the disappearance. A resident in a neighborhood several miles away from the sheriff’s station reported seeing a woman meeting Richardson’s description sleeping on a porch that morning, but there have been no other sightings.
Sutton and Richardson’s father, Michael Richardson, along with their lawyer, civil rights attorney Leo Terrell, accused police Friday of inconsistencies in their reports. Terrell has said that celebrities who get arrested are never released into the night, and Richardson should not have been, either.
Richardson is black, and the area where she was arrested is predominantly white. Lauer asked Terrell if he thinks there is a racial aspect to the way Richardson was treated.
“I’ll let the public decide that,” the lawyer replied.
‘Something a little strange’
The missing woman, who worked as an executive assistant and lived with her grandmother in Los Angeles, holds a degree from Cal State Fullerton and planned to go to graduate school to pursue a doctorate in psychology. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, she drove to an upscale restaurant in Malibu, 40 miles from her home, where staff said she was behaving oddly, at one point sitting down with a table of six and engaging them in conversation.
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.”
When Richardson was presented with an $89 check, Peterson told police, she said she had no money and couldn’t pay. According to Sutton, her daughter called her great-grandmother, who offered to pay the bill over the phone, but the restaurant said they couldn’t do that. Instead, Peterson called the sheriff’s deputy out of concern for Richardson’s safety, he said.
Released on her own
When deputies arrived, they searched Richardson’s car and impounded it after finding a small amount of marijuana. They arrested Richardson for possession of marijuana and not paying her bill and took her 13 miles away to the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff’s station. Her car remained at the restaurant.
Sutton says she called the restaurant after the great-grandmother called to tell her what had happened. When she was told her daughter had been arrested, Sutton called the sheriff’s station and told deputies that she would be there sometime after 4 a.m. to pick Richardson up.
Sutton says when she called back at 4:30 a.m. to find out what Richardson’s bail was, she was told that her daughter had been released on her own recognizance three hours earlier. Sutton has said that her daughter’s cell phone and identification were in her car at the restaurant. Police say she had her ID with her.
Police deny wrongdoing
Richardson’s parents say she should never have been released at that hour with no transportation or money. 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.
‘Not on her right set of mind’
But her family says there is no justification for allowing her to leave at that hour in an area with which the young woman was unfamiliar.
“Although Mitrice had money, she did not have money in her possession,” her mother told Lauer. “Her being out there alone is very frightening to me because Mitrice is not street savvy.”
According to published reports, Mitrice Richardson had been acting strangely on the day of her arrest and disappearance.
“She was sending very odd text messages and making very odd statements about being part of the universe, part of nature,” said Ronda Hampton, a family friend and clinical psychologist.
In an interview with CNN, Sutton said she was also concerned about her daughter’s uncharacteristic behavior. “She was not on her right set of mind,” Sutton said. “She hasn’t called me or her grandmother. That’s extremely odd. We know that something is wrong with Mitrice. We have got to find her.”
Deputies have said that Mitrice Richardson, who is described as an African-American who stands between 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-6 and weighs about 135 pounds, made two phone calls before walking into the night and vanishing. Her parents say they have asked to know which numbers she called but have not obtained that information. They know only that their daughter did not call them or other family members.
“The authorities have been unwilling, unable to produce that information as to who she called,” Sutton said.
Los Angeles Police have been called into service in the search for the young woman. Lauer asked Sutton and Michael Richardson if they think police are doing enough to find their daughter.
“No,” Michael Richardson said. “Not at all.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.