The last people to see Mitrice Richardson before she mysteriously disappeared almost a year ago were police deputies, who in the small hours of a September morning released the 24-year-old mentally ill woman with no car, no phone, no identification and no cash.
Now Richardson's mother is suing Los Angeles County and nine sheriff's deputies for wrongful death, claiming it was negligent to release Richardson alone from an Angoura Hills, California, police station just after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009.
"The LA County Sheriff's Department was grossly negligent, and the officers on that shift, grossly negligent in allowing her to leave and walk out without any form of communication with her family or friends," said attorney Leo J. Terrell, who is representing Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton.
Richardson was arrested on Sept. 16 at a Malibu restaurant where she was acting erratically and refused to pay her tab.
Police booked her at the Lost Hills police station, where according to court documents, she continued to act strangely.
According to the suit, Richardson passed a field sobriety test but "acted strangely." Police contacted her mother, who said her daughter's behavior was out of character and asked that she not be released alone, late at night, in an area she was unfamiliar with, the suit said.
Some of that strange behavior was captured on video tape.
According to the lawsuit, surveillance video from inside the police station captured Richardson "clutching the screen of the holding pen and rocking from side to side."
"Another image is Ms. Richardson attempting without success to place phone calls from the station without assistance. Another image of Mitrice Richardson pulling at her hair and trying to get into the fetal position face down on a concrete bench is also seen," according to the family's suit.
The family was given access to the video tapes.
According to their suit, "these actions by Mitrice were blatantly evident to the deputies and employees of the Lost Hills Malibu Sheriff Station, yet no one attempted to call for a medical or psychiatric evaluation or attempted to hold Ms. Richardson for an extended period of time until it was evident she had a safe place to go upon release."
The lawsuit contends that under the law, the police should have held her until she could be evaluated.
The sheriff's department said it could not comment on a pending lawsuit, but department spokesman Steve Whitmore said, "Our goal remains finding her, locating her, hopefully safe and sound.
"When it gets into a lawsuit, I'm prohibited from speaking about it," he said. "However, whenever a lawsuit is filed the whole story is not being told. The whole story is not told here."
Over the past several months, Richardson's family has accused the sheriff's department of trying to cover up mistakes they made.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Sutton said she believed her daughter was being held or had been murdered.
"I do have to face the possibility that based on how long she has been missing, she is either being held and transported from place to place, or she may be dead," Sutton said.
The family hopes the lawsuit will put additional pressure on the police to continue their search. It also gives them access to police documents and allows them to interview deputies under oath.