Mike Kessler’s story “What Happened to Mitrice Richardson?” in Los Angeles magazine looks into the puzzling death of Mitrice Richardson and the sheriff department's baffling mishandling of the case.
Two years ago this September, the recent college graduate was jailed briefly for trying to skip out on her dinner tab in Malibu, then freed in the middle of the night in a neighborhood far from home. Richardson had no car, no ride, no phone, and no money. When the young African American woman disappeared, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department insisted that she was mentally stable. When her naked remains were discovered 11 months later on a remote marijuana farm, the way officials handled the investigation raised a number of unsettling questions:
*Why did the sheriff’s station free Richardson despite several accounts of the young woman displaying the sort of odd behavior that would normally warrant psychological evaluation?
*Why did the station -- the same one that gave Mel Gibson a ride to his car after he was freed -- turn Richardson loose even though her car had been impounded and she had no ride?
*Why were Richardson’s remains both nude and partially mummified?
*How did Richardson, a young woman from the city, end up in an exceedingly rugged canyon?
*Why did sheriff’s personnel remove her remains from the scene rather than follow protocol and wait for the coroner’s office to investigate?
*Why hadn’t a thorough autopsy been performed on those remains?
In this masterfully reported story, Kessler reveals how sheriff's personnel withheld details surrounding the handling of Richardson’s case, and how the department's own watchdog agency, the Office of Independent Review, failed to adequately investigate the case. The article contains revelations about both the puzzling state of Richardson's naked, partially mummified remains and the details surrounding the sheriff’s department's controversial decision to move Richardson’s body from the scene before coroner’s officials could investigate. Stonewalled by deputies and coroner’s personnel, Kessler interviewed some 75 people, including well-placed confidential sources, for the feature. More than gripping, “What Happened to Mitrice Richardson?” is a story that is as tragic as it is unsettling.