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Mitrice Richardson refused an offer to stay, jailer says

August 12, 2010 |  3:26 pm

With the announcement Thursday that authorities had identified the skeletal remains of Mitrice Richardson, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has come under renewed scrutiny for its decision to release her from custody far from home in the middle of the night.

But the civilian jailer who processed Richardson at the Malibu-Lost Hills station on the night she was released told The Times on Wednesday that Richardson was offered the opportunity to stay but ultimately refused, saying she planned to "hook up with friends."

Sharon Cummings, a custody assistant at the Malibu-Lost Hills station, said Richardson was slightly nervous but lucid while being booked for arrest after behaving strangely and being unable to pay her $89 dinner bill at a local restaurant.

The booking process lasted less than two hours, Cummings said. During the time, Richardson was given a phone and made several calls. The jailer said she did not listen to the conversations but talked with Richardson intermittently, discussing gospel music and karma.

When authorities learned she had no outstanding warrants and had signed papers authorizing her release, Richardson was given the option to stay or go.

"I asked her 'Is someone coming here to pick you up?' and she said, 'No.' " Cummings said. "I asked her were they [someone to give her a ride] on the way. She said she was going try and hook up with her friends.”

Cummings said she urged Richardson to stay because it was not only dark but cold.

"I told her maybe she should wait until morning and have breakfast," Cummings said. "She thought about it and said ‘Maybe I’ll stay.’ "

The jailer left to get some keys. When Cummings returned, Richardson had changed her mind and said she didn't want stay, according to the jailer.

The Office of Independent Review, which oversees the Sheriff's Department found that the department "properly and legally released" Richardson, according to a 58-page report.

But in the press conference identifying Richardson as the victim, Sheriff Lee Baca acknowledged the Richardson case had triggered "soul searching” in the Sheriff's Department.

Although sheriff's personnel acted properly, "Properly doesn’t mean we couldn’t have done something more,” Baca said in a news conference.

Cummings said that when detainees are showing signs of mental instability, jailers immediately contact the watch sergeant or watch commander. That didn't occur because Richardson was calm the entire time she was in custody.

In the end, Cummings said, Richardson had made up her mind to leave.

"She just didn’t want to stay. I offered her the opportunity. I even tried to convince her to stay. She [Richardson] said she was going to hook up with her friends and she did not want stay."

--Andrew Blankstein