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Mitrice Richardson's family files multimillion-dollar claim against L.A. County

January 13, 2010 |  9:59 pm

The family of Mitrice Richardson, who has been missing since she was released from the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff’s station at 12:30 a.m. Sept. 17, has filed a multimillion-dollar claim against Los Angeles County, alleging that Sheriff’s Department personnel acted negligently.

The claim mentions a number of officers who interacted with Richardson, 24, from the time she was arrested at Geoffrey’s, a Malibu restaurant, for not paying her $89 dinner bill, until her release into the night without her car, cellphone or purse.

Staff at the restaurant said she was behaving bizarrely and speaking gibberish. The restaurant staffer who called the Sheriff’s Department said she was “acting crazy.”

In the months since her disappearance, homicide investigators from the Los Angeles Police Department say, they have found evidence in her diaries and text messages that she was suffering from severe bipolar disorder.

“We feel they had a duty to keep her there,” said attorney Leo Terrell, who filed the claim on behalf of Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton; her father, Michael Richardson; the missing woman; and her estate. “If they felt she had a mental issue, they had an obligation to hold her.”

The deputies could have held her for a mental evaluation. But the Sheriff’s Department has steadfastly maintained that in the hours it did detain her, she appeared and talked rationally. A department spokesman has said the department felt, if anything, that it had a legal obligation to release her in a timely manner.

The claim, which was filed last week, alleges negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death, according to Terrell.

LAPD Homicide Det. Chuck Knolls, who has been investigating the disappearance of the Cal State Fullerton graduate for months, expressed surprise that wrongful death was included.

“As far as we know, she’s a missing person,” said Knolls, who was part of an extensive search of the Malibu Canyon area Saturday. No sign of Richardson turned up, nor is there any evidence she was a victim of a crime.

Terrell acknowledged the possibility that she could turn up alive — in which case, he said, he would remove the wrongful death portion of the claim as well as the reference to Richardson’s estate. But he filed the claim as he did, he said, to make the six-month window after the alleged negligence occurred.

Terrell expects to follow the claim with a lawsuit.

-- Carla Hall