September 23rd, 2009
10:54 AM ET

Woman vanishes after arrest


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/23/crime.mitrice.jpg caption="Mitrice Richardson, 24, went missing after she was released from a Malibu police station about 1 a.m. last Friday." width=292 height=320]

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

A former beauty pageant contestant, who was arrested last week in Malibu, vanished shortly after being released by police, authorities said.

Mitrice Richardson, of Los Angeles, has not been seen or heard from since the early morning of Thursday, September 17.

The night before, the 24-year-old college graduate was accused of not paying for her $89 dinner at a Malibu restaurant. Sheriff's deputies who were called to the scene charged Richardson with defrauding an innkeeper and possessing a small amount of marijuana.

Richardson was booked at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Malibu/Lost Hills station. The department spokesman said she was discharged at approximately 1am Thursday.

She left the station on foot, according to family and police. Her car, which was impounded following her arrest, remains in the custody of the sheriff's department.

The Los Angeles Police Department said an extensive search and rescue operation for Richardson was conducted in the surrounding area. The efforts, which utilized helicopters and dogs, failed to yield any clues to her whereabouts.

Richardson's family described her behavior in the hours before she went missing as strange and uncharacteristic.

"She was sending very odd text messages and making very odd statements about being part of the universe, part of nature," said Ronda Hampton, a family friend and clinical psychologist. Hampton also said Richardson, who graduated from California State University Fullerton, was planning on earning her doctorate in psychology.

Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton, was also troubled by her daughter's actions. "She was not on her right set of mind," Sutton told CNN. "She hasn't called me or her grandmother. That's extremely odd. We know that something is wrong with Mitrice. We have got to find her."

Detective Kristin Merrill of the Los Angeles Police Department's Missing Persons Unit called the case unusual. "She hasn't made contact with her family. I don't think she's the type of person that wouldn't stay in touch. It's not normal."

Richardson, who lives with her grandmother, works as an executive assistant, her mother said. She said her daughter is "very outgoing, very loving, full of energy.Mitrice is a very responsible young lady."

But on Wednesday, September 16, her family and friends began to worry after receiving disturbing text messages and phone calls from Richardson.

Her mother recalled one text message: "It said something to the effect of 'watch the news today, it's going to shock the hell out of you.'"

Ronda Hampton said the messages weren't the only unsettling signs. "Nobody had any contact with her for a large part of the day, which was very odd," she said.

That evening, Richardson drove her car to Malibu, which is about 40 miles away from her home in southeastern Los Angeles.

She arrived at Geoffrey's Malibu, an upscale restaurant overlooking the Pacific Coast at around 7:00 p.m. Jeff Peterson, the restaurant's owner, said her erratic behavior was noticed by customers and employees. "There was something a little strange about her," he told CNN. "She wasn't mentally ill, not ranting or raving. You couldn't put your finger on it."

"She sat down with a table of six and began to talk to them," Hampton added. "She's being very inappropriate. The patrons knew something was wrong with her. The waitresses knew something was wrong with her."

Peterson said Richardson ordered a steak and a drink, but would not pay for the meal. The manager summoned the police. "It was not just the money," Peterson recalled, "something was wrong with her. And it wasn't the alcohol, and we didn't know what do to and we didn't want to put her in a vehicle.

"We did what we did for her safety. The worst thing we could have done was let her go on her way. We take our responsibly very seriously."

Richardson was taken to the police station. Her family said her purse, identification and cell phone were left in her car. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Spokesman Steve Whitmore disputed that claim and said Richardson had her identification with her when she left the station.

Lattice Sutton said she told the officers that she would be there around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. to pick up her daughter. But she said when she called again to check on her, she was told Richardson was already released.

"I said 'you're kidding? Who was she released to?'" Sutton told CNN. "I said 'You let her walk out in the middle of the night with no vehicle? She is not familiar with the area. It's dark out there. There is nothing out there. She doesn't have any money.. What do you mean you let her out?'"

Steve Whitmore, the sheriff's department spokesman, responded to Sutton's assertions. He said "She was not intoxicated, she didn't exhibit any mental issues, so when we were done running her fingerprints and criminal history, then we are obligated by law to release her from custody.

He also said Richardson made several phone calls from the station. He added this: "One of our jailers, a female jailer, offered to her to stay the night. She could have stayed, but she wanted to leave."

Detective Merrill said Richardson walked several miles from the police station, eventually stopping at a house between 6 and 6:30am. "What we discovered. was someone matching her description was seen on a resident of the area's porch. They then called the sheriff but our missing person had left the area," she said.

The trail for Richardson has turned cold since that Thursday morning. Detective Merrill said several leads have not resulted in any clues. She is hoping more media attention will result in Richardson being found. She also doesn't suspect any foul play.

Whitmore said the sheriff's department is working in conjunction with the LAPD and actively searching for Richardson.

Mitrice is a very responsible young lady," her mother said. "She is loved by her family. We love her. She knows we love her. Help us bring her home."

Contact Detective Kristin Merrill at 213-485-5381 if you have any information. You can also call 1-877-LAPD-24-7.

The family's web site can be found at www.findmitrice.info

Follow Gabe on Twitter @cnnfalcon.

For more crime coverage go to cnn.com/crime.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. sparks

    Her mother recalled one text message: “It said something to the effect of ‘watch the news today, it’s going to shock the hell out of you.’”

    Whatever happened to her was obviously of her own free will. It was planned. Quit blaming the police. Not paying for your meal does not mean your mentally unstable just a thief. They should not have the right to detain you for any longer than needed. They were right to let her go. She will pop up again in the headlines. Maybe she is part of green peace. Maybe a terrorist. What ever she has planned she believes is big enough to be news worthy and shocking to her family.

    September 24, 2009 at 9:05 am |
  2. jane

    This is an unfortuneate story but it's on CNN's list of hot topics??? I haven't heard this particular story on other cable news stations but maybe that's because a couple of them are covering updates on the partially foiled terror plot that the FBI and NYPD have been (and still are right now) feverishly investigating! Of course, in order to cover that very frightening and timely story, CNN reporters would have to utter the word 'terrorist' and that might offend someone . Flipping between CNN, MSNBC, FOX and HLN on my Direct TV Newsmix is a 50% waste of viewing time-guess which % CNN falls into? I think they correctly believe their viewers/readers are brain dead.

    Oh, and regarding this poor missing woman, the police have no right to hold her if she is not a danger to herself or others, which Erin correctly points out. I hope nothing bad has happened to her, but if it has then the person(s) who have abducted/harmed her are responsible. Period.

    September 24, 2009 at 8:09 am |
  3. sj315

    This is another case of unfair acts on womans ,why wound anyone in there right mind just let a youngwoman out at night along. this is strange knowing the danger out o the street, you have her car and you know the people said she acting strange but they could put thier hand on the problem .you contract her mother so what hurry to free up the cell I think something not coming together with this case .did she make her one call? how did the mother know what happen that night who contract her .

    September 24, 2009 at 7:35 am |
  4. flabbergasted

    The police couldn't see what other people saw of her strange behavior. Then they released her, but not her car, after midnight into an unfamiliar area to WALK miles! Police should have known better than anyone else that a disaster was waiting to happen.

    September 24, 2009 at 6:57 am |
  5. suzan

    Releasing people in the middle of the night from custody is unfortunately pretty standard in most counties. Where I live, the sheriff's department released a man in the middle of the night in a snow storm with no car, etc. The man was found dead from exposure when the snow started melting in the spring within yards of the jail. It's bad enough to release a man at that time of night, but a woman with no car, ride, etc.,?? I sincerely hope they find her alive and can help her, the poor woman sounds like she is sick and needs her family.

    September 24, 2009 at 4:35 am |
  6. Dee Dee

    as a health care provider, this does NOT sound 'drug induced', as much as it sounds like a mental break.. whether she was drugged out, or having a breakdown is really beside the point; the fact is, the police released this young woman at 1 AM- in an unfamiliar area, with no money or identification..

    I, too, wonder why the Mother said she'd be picking her up at 5AM- unless she was told that's when her daughter would be released.. given the witness accounts, this woman should've been held on a 5150 so she could be psychologically evaluated, and/ or drug tested.. you don't just park at a table of people you don't know in a restaurant and start chatting! this young lady certainly fell between the cracks here, and I sincerely hope they find her soon- safe and sound!

    oh, and Proctologist, schizophrenia is a very treatable disorder, and even if it WASN'T, how DARE you say her family may not want to find her! obviously, they do, and an illness doesn't make a person any less wanted by those that truly love and care for you! I hope you never find yourself locked in the depths of a mental illness!

    my thoughts and prayers go out to this family for her safe return!

    September 24, 2009 at 4:01 am |
  7. ctionyrone

    i agree with u marvin i think the police are involved some how.

    September 24, 2009 at 3:00 am |
  8. Erin

    I feel so badly that her family is hurting and missing her. I couldn't even imagine a member of my family going missing. One does have to ask, why couldn't mom get to the Police station until five or six hours after she had been arrested? I am Law enforcement affilated and unless the Officer believes she is a danger to herself or others they can't hold her it violates the law not to mention her rights. The Officer doesn't know who she is or what her "normal behavior" might be. The Officer did what he was required to do by law. Where was MOM?

    September 23, 2009 at 8:46 pm |
  9. Jean Lynn

    I wonder how many people would put a 24year old woman out of their house in the middle of the night, with no car, no money, no cell phone, and in an area where she was unfamilar, after they had been called to pick her up because she was acting strangely. Remember what's on the car door, 'to protect and serve." Do you ever wonder who they're paid to protect and serve?

    September 23, 2009 at 8:29 pm |
  10. MARVIN

    Police are involved.

    September 23, 2009 at 8:02 pm |
  11. AnMurray

    Awwww, how sad she was beautiful to, I pray to GOD that she is found and a live.... I was also lokking at some of the comments, and see where someone wrote that she may have Schizophrenia, and if she does have that, the person she once was is gone, and that they might not want to find her.... WoW, Not matter what my daught family memeber or lover has, I still would want them in my life..... I wish the best for her and her family!

    September 23, 2009 at 5:59 pm |
  12. alaska

    Wow, this is strange indeed. Doesn't the police department have a record of the phone numbers that she supposedly called before she left? They said she made several phone calls.

    September 23, 2009 at 5:29 pm |
  13. Heather Pushard

    Sounds to me like there was a hallucengetic involved. Not mental breakdown.

    September 23, 2009 at 4:36 pm |
  14. mike

    by her behavior sounds like acid or pcp

    September 23, 2009 at 4:11 pm |
  15. Leeds1

    Why didn't the police department do a drug test on her? If they had and it was negative, then at least it could be concluded that she had a mental breakdown/or illness. If it was positive, then they would have made her stay overnight.

    I'm not trying to blame the police dept. but seems like they really dropped the ball.

    I hope she is found safe so she can go back to her loving family.

    September 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  16. Teresa, OH

    If I were w/ a fellow diner and they got arrested, I would naturally go to the police station and wait for the person. Or did she just sit down at a table w/ complete strangers and order a meal?

    I pray she is ok and returns safely to her family. She seems like she has an incredible life.

    @Proctologist: ummm, " the person she once was is now gone". Having lived w/ a schizophrenic for over 20 yrs.... that is an incorrect statement. And this: " and her family just might not want to find her"... you almost broke my heart. : *( Love doesnt stop because one develops a disease.

    September 23, 2009 at 3:37 pm |
  17. MLH

    I think everyone is forgetting one thing... She is an adult... The cops had no reason to hold her... I know everyone likes to blame cops for everything, but she had no criminal record... and being a bit erratic does not make her a mental case... and she skipped out on a dinner bill... not exactly a dangerous person... If she didn't want to stick around for her Mom... her call...

    September 23, 2009 at 2:51 pm |
  18. The Proctologist

    This sounds like a case of schizophrenia. Sometimes people begin showing symptoms where there were none before...especially in teenagers and young adults. i noticed the part where people said they could tell something was wrong with her but they couldn't put their finger on it. Thats sounds like schizophrenia to me. If I'm right and this young lady has indeed contracted this horrible dibilitating sickness.... then the person she once was is now gone. She will never be the same person again.... and her family just might not want to find her. Good Luck to them.

    September 23, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  19. Scott in Atlanta

    Same thing happend with Martin Lawrence. When Marijuana is mixed with "other things" this can be the result. She was found with a small amount of marijuana right?

    I pray for her.

    September 23, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
  20. rant_n_rave

    We did what we did for her safety. The worst thing we could have done was let her go on her way. We take our responsibly very seriously.” Well said on this statement huh?

    With all the crimes against women – our own police departments just added another step to the ladder! Makes one wonder if it had been "a relative of one of their "own" would they have been as sensible?

    September 23, 2009 at 12:31 pm |
  21. Jacky Ears

    How awful this is for that young woman's family! The jails release inmates around midnight, after the count. They do it that way so they will recieve funding for each prisoner. I've thought about how scary it would be to be dumped onto the street in the middle of the night, on foot, likely with no $ as well. Anything could happen, particularly to an attractive young woman.

    The description of her behavior sounds like she was drugged, sounds like meth. Poor thing, hope she is found and all works out well.

    September 23, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  22. Cindy

    It seems to me that Mitrice had some sort of mental breakdown that day. Her erratic behavior all through out the day proves that point. If her family and the people at the restaurant could tell that something was wrong then why couldn't the police? To let her leave in the middle of the night with no car or anything was stupid. I hope that they find her safe and get her some help.


    September 23, 2009 at 11:10 am |