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Father of missing woman sues L.A. County Sheriff's Department

July 27, 2010 |  3:12 pm

Mitrice The father of a woman who disappeared last year in Malibu filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, alleging negligence while she was in its custody.

Mitrice Richardson -- whose 25th birthday three months ago was observed by family and friends without her -- was arrested for not being able to pay an $89 dinner bill at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu.

She was released from the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff’s station Sept. 17 around 12:30 a.m. without her car, which was impounded, or her purse and cellphone, which were in the car. Aside from a couple of sightings later that morning, she vanished.

Since then, Los Angeles police detectives investigating her disappearance found journals she kept that indicated she was probably suffering from severe bipolar disorder. The suit filed by Michael Richardson is similar to one filed four weeks ago by Mitrice’s mother, Latice Sutton.

Both suits seek damages and contend that Mitrice exhibited signs of mental instability while in custody -- grabbing the walls of the holding cell, pulling her hair -- but officials did not hold her for a mental health evaluation.

Sutton said when she filed her lawsuit that she had been allowed to watch a sheriff’s department videotape of her daughter that showed her acting strangely in the holding cell. Michael Richardson has spent enormous amounts of time searching for his daughter.

In his lawsuit, he specifically asks for damages for emotional distress, as well as for loss of earnings and medical expenses.

His lawyer, Benjamin Schonbrun, said Michael Richardson’s biggest loss “is the big gaping hole in his heart from missing his daughter…I just want to make sure that people understand this lawsuit was not filed for his own monetary gain…This lawsuit is about seeking the truth, obtaining information the sheriff has not provided.”

Schonbrun said that would include videotapes, audiotapes, witness statements and internal reports.

Sutton’s lawyer, Leo Terrell, similarly said last month that he expects his client’s lawsuit to make tapes and reports available.

Sheriff’s department spokesman Steve Whitmore said officials continued to stand by their previous statements that their personnel handled the Richardson arrest correctly and never saw evidence that she was mentally altered.

“We have been forthcoming about what did occur and didn’t occur,” said Whitmore. “We look forward to telling the whole story. The sheriff feels transparency is much more than a buzzword…He has met with the family, he has cooperated with the LAPD by assigning homicide investigators to help.”

-- Carla Hall

Photo: Mitrice Richardson