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Authorities believe Mitrice Richardson may be alive and in Las Vegas

July 28, 2010 |  2:19 pm

Mitrice-Richardson Los Angeles law enforcement authorities believe that Mitrice Richardson, the woman who vanished after being released from a sheriff's station in the early morning last September, may be alive and living in Las Vegas.

"It's not definitive, it's not absolute," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. But Los Angeles sheriff's and police investigators plan to hold a press conference with local police officials in Las Vegas Thursday to announce they are looking for Richardson and to urge her to contact them, he said.

"Please let us know you're OK," Whitmore said of their message to Richardson. "You're not in trouble. You've done nothing wrong. You are not the subject of a criminal investigation. You will not be arrested."

Richardson's father, Michael Richardson, said Wednesday that a Sheriff's Department official told him recently the department had gathered information on 80 possible sightings of his daughter in Las Vegas. Whitmore would not confirm that number but he said, "They wouldn't be doing this if they didn't believe they had credible information of her whereabouts. They want to prove or disprove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these sightings are indeed fact or indeed not fact."

Richardson, a Cal State Fullerton graduate whose 25th birthday was three months ago, was arrested the evening of last Sept. 16 at Geoffrey's restaurant in Malibu after she couldn't pay her $89 dinner bill. Patrons and restaurant staff said she had been behaving bizarrely, but Sheriff's Department staffers said she acted normally while in custody at the Lost Hills/Malibu station. She was released shortly after midnight but without her car — which had been impounded — or her purse and cellphone, which were in the car. There were three credible sightings of her later that morning in Malibu Canyon. But she never made contact with friends or family and no further trace of her was found. Los Angeles Police Department homicide investigators assigned to the case discovered a few months later that she was probably suffering from a severe bipolar mental disorder at the time of her arrest and disappearance.

Since then, Sheriff's Department officials have been repeatedly criticized for not holding her for further medical evaluation and instead releasing her without a car or phone in the early morning darkness near the rugged terrain of Malibu Canyon. The department has steadfastly maintained that Richardson acted rationally in their custody. But its handling of the case has been investigated at the request of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and Richardson's parents have filed lawsuits claiming negligence.

Authorities conducted four searches across miles of Malibu Canyon — the last one in January was the largest ever conducted in the county for a missing person — without turning up a single clue.

According to Michael Richardson, a Sheriff's Department official discussed with him the possibility that his daughter was working as a prostitute in Las Vegas. Richardson said it was possible she was under the influence of someone keeping her from contacting family and friends. Or that she may have simply shrugged off old connections on her own.

It's also possible that the multiple sightings are not of Richardson but of a woman who resembles her.

"Absolutely possible," Whitmore said. "They want to make it definitive."

-- Carla Hall

Photo: Mitrice Richardson, a Cal State Fullerton graduate, was last seen at the Malibu sheriff's station in September.