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L.A. County Sheriff's Department, coroner's office to investigate handling of Mitrice Richardson's remains

November 8, 2010 |  6:47 pm

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef013487fe0687970c-piLos Angeles County sheriff's and coroner's officials have agreed to launch an inquiry into the handling of Mitrice Richardson's remains, which a coroner's official said were removed from a ravine without his department’s permission.

Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said in an interview with The Times that he was “very clear” with sheriff's officials that they should not remove Richardson’s remains until coroner's investigators arrived or clearance was granted.

A sheriff's spokesman acknowledged that deputies removed Richardson's body from the scene without the coroner's permission, but said they did so because detectives were concerned that it was getting dark and that animals might destroy the remains.

Richardson, 24, drew national media attention in September 2009 when she disappeared after being released from the sheriff's Lost Hills/Malibu station about midnight without her car, purse or cellphone. Nearly 11 months after her disappearance, her remains were spotted in a remote Malibu Canyon ravine.

Initially, sheriff's officials believed that only a skull and a few other bones were there. Winter said that at that point, sheriff's officials were told they could move the bones only after coroner's officials reviewed photos of the scene and gave clearance. Sheriff's officials said permission was granted to remove partial remains.

But when an entire skeleton was found, sheriff's officials proceeded without clearance to move all the remains. Winter said he told sheriff's officials not to do so, but a sheriff's captain said that message never got to deputies on the scene.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the goal of the inquiry is to “minimize such miscommunications … in the future.”

“These kinds of situations do occur and we want to minimize those so we don't have any miscommunications, if that's possible,” Whitmore said.

The inquiry will be overseen by the Office of Independent Review, the sheriff's watchdog agency. It will include interviews and a review of the day's timeline, Whitmore said.

”This is not a delaying tactic. This is not going to take forever. It'll be thorough but also expeditious,” he said, adding that the goal is to make any findings public.

-- Robert Faturechi

Photo: Mitrice Richardson